BEASTS OF THE EAST: St. John’s wins first conference title since 1988

St. John's captured its fourth BIG EAST Tournament title on March 8, downing Creighton 50-37 at McGrath-Phillips Arena in Chicago. (Photo: St. John's Athletic Communications)

St. John's captured its fourth BIG EAST Tournament title on March 8, downing Creighton 50-37 at McGrath-Phillips Arena in Chicago. (Photo: St. John's Athletic Communications)

Dylan Hornik, Staff Writer

For the first time since 1988, the St. John’s women’s basketball team are the champions of the BIG EAST.

A title-worthy defense brought the team a 50-37 victory over Creighton, its third win in as many days, a fourth conference title, and a ticket to the NCAA Tournament. The Red Storm held the Blue Jays to just 24.5 percent shooting for the game, and limited them to 14 points in the entire second half.

“This is a thing that doesn’t go away; it’s for all time,” head coach Joe Tartamella said. “It bonds us, and we’re very excited to represent the BIG EAST as the postseason champ as we move into the NCAA Tournament.”

Aliyyah Handford, dominant on both ends all week, and all season, was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. She averaged over 18 points and five rebounds in the three games. Fellow senior Danaejah Grant was named to the All-Tournament team, averaging 16 points and 7 rebounds.

The Red Storm played fast to start but could not score with consistency. Handford did not score in the first; instead, five different Red Storm players scored to help take a one-point lead at the end of the first.

Their saving grace was their rebounding, they were in double-digits on the boards before the second quarter even started, and they contested every Creighton shot. They held Creighton to just 10 points and survived a 6-0 run at the end of the quarter to maintain their advantage.

Their defensive intensity stayed extremely high in the second as the offense continued to sputter. Sandra Udobi and Imani Littleton led the effort with their stellar interior defense; on Creighton’s Brianna Rollerson, Udobi forced her to miss two straight shots and forced a turnover.

Handford finally got her first basket to fall halfway through the quarter on a layup, and finished with 11 points. The Red Storm offense still struggled, as evident by back-to-back shot clock violations towards the end of the quarter, but were kept afloat by Aliyyah Lewis’ tough drives inside.

But the Red Storm held Creighton again to only muster up 10 points, a desperately needed defensive effort

The game nearly slipped away from St. John’s in the third. They gave Creighton the lead for the first time at the beginning of the period, but their lead never grew larger than three, and the game was tied on three separate occasions during the quarter.

The team turned from their usual fast-paced play to a slower half-court style of play to try to limit Creighton’s chances on offense. Handford converted a layup to put the team up by three with just under two minutes left, but MC McGrory hit a jumper and a foul to keep it tied at the end of the quarter.

St. John’s turned it on in the fourth quarter, and pulled away for the championship. They outscored Creighton 22-9 in that period and held them scoreless for a span of almost five minutes after an Akina Wellere three and a pair of Creighton free throws.

The big anticipated scoring run came in the form a 19-7 Red Storm spurt to close the contest when Creighton finally ran out of steam. Lewis and Danaejah Grant, the conference’s leading scorer, led the way with  seven and six apiece to seal the game and the championship.

Lewis led all scorers with 14 points and eight rebounds for the game. Grant had nine points and five rebounds.

The Red Storm find out their NCAA Tournament matchup on March 14.