Halves and Half-nots

PISCATAWAY, N. J. - St. John’s first game as the nation’s No. 25 team was turning into one awful nightmare √¢?” then the team woke up.

 

After playing its worst basketball of the season for the first 15 minutes, the Red Storm mounted a furious run indicative of its ranking. But No. 9 Rutgers held on, 61-51, in front of a crowd of 2,714 at the Louis Brown Athletic Center on Wednesday night. The loss ends St. John’s four-game win streak and is its 14th consecutive loss to the Scarlet Knights.

 

“If we would have came out the first half like we did the second half it would have been our game,” guard Kia Wright said.

 

Rutgers (16-3, 8-0) completely dominated the beginning of the first half, outscoring St. John’s 33-6 and limiting them to 1-of-14 shooting from the field with 5:04 remaining.

 

The Red Storm (17-4, 7-3) looked out of sync and frustrated on offense. Rutgers’ pressure and length on defense causde them to commit uncharacteristic turnovers and take closely contested shots. Barnes Arico, who said her team was tight, played eight players in the half hoping for one of them to spark a Red Storm run.  But it would not be one player, but all of them.

 

Over the next six minutes of game time, three in each half, St. John’s went on a 22-2 run to cut the Scarlet Knights’ lead 35-31 on a jumper by senior Greeba Barlow with 16:54 left to play.

 

“They wanted it,” said Rutgers guard Cappie Pondexter, who had a game high 24 points. “The first time for them in 20 year they’re in the top 25. Why not fight.”

 

They did.

 

As it did for the rest of the game, a full-court press and balanced scoring was the key to the Red Storm’s offensive attack.

 

“Sometimes pressing teams don’t like to be pressed,” St. John’s coach Kim Barnes Arico said.

 

Rutgers coach Vivian Stringer was more upset with her team’s dipping intensity then she was impressed by St. John’s pressure.

 

“I just think we were very hesitant,” she said. “It wasn’t an earth-shattering, you-can’t-see-anybody press.”

 

Six different Red Storm players scored during the momentum-turning run. Angela Clark, Danielle Chambers and Wright each led St. John’s with 10 points apiece.  Wright also finished with nine rebounds. St. John’s finished shooting 32.1 percent from the field to Rutgers’ 45.3.

But freshman Kia Vaughn and Pondexter were too dubious a duo to contend with. The fifth-year senior Pondexter, who scored a combined 12 points in her last two games against St. John’s, had 15 in the first half and eight rebounds in the game. Vaughn added 15 points of her own.

 

It was Pondexter’s three-point play that snapped Rutgers out of its mid-game slumber giving them a 38-31 lead with 16:25 remaining.

 

St. John’s would cut the lead to two points four times after that. The last time coming on a layup by Chambers that made it 48-46 at 5:28. Rutgers finished the game on a 13-4 run to close out the Red Storm.

 

Even with the dreadful start, the game’s outcome is an improvement against the Scarlet Knights, who now sit three games ahead of St. John’s for second
place in the conference. Last season St. John’s lost 69-45 and 64-49 to the 2005 Big East regular season champions. The second loss came in the second round of the conference tournament.

 

Today was different and could have been better.

 

“I’m impressed by the way we came back,” Barnes Arico said. “But I’m also disappointed in the way we came out.”