UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Kim Barnes Arico conveyed to her team a rather unusual philosophy going in.
“I told them, ‘If we’re in it with a minute to go, we’re going to win it,'” said the St. John’s women’s basketball coach after her team’s second-round NCAA game against No. 2-seeded Maryland.
Before Barnes Arico could prove prophetic, the seventh-seeded Red Storm had to fulfill its part of the deal: go toe-to-toe with the third-ranked team in the country, a squad that had only four losses on its resume, to No. 1 North Carolina, No. 4 Duke (twice) and No. 6 Tennessee.
And her team did in every respect at Penn State’s Bryce Jordan Center.
Except for the final score.
St. John’s fell to Maryland, 81-74, on March 21 after an incredible roller-coaster ride of basketball emotions featuring 14 lead changes and 20 ties.
“I let them down,” Barnes Arico said after.
But truthfully, there could be no let down at all for the Red Storm, which defeated California in the first round and was playing in its first NCAA Tournament since 1988.
Barnes Arico, now in her fourth year, inherited a team that was 3-24 before she came to the Queens school. Seasons of eight wins, 10 wins and 20 wins followed.
This year has been one of the most successful in school history – and it would have been at the top of the list with a win against the Terps.
“They’re big, they’re real big,” said star guard Kia Wright, who led the team with 23 points and nine assists. “But our hearts are bigger. We had it in our minds we could come out here and play with them.”
Without question, St. John’s (22-8) proved it could.
The score was deadlocked at 72 with 3:17 left after Red Storm senior Greeba Barlow hit a free throw. Wright stole the ball on the ensuing possession and it looked like the momentum had swung for the umpteenth time.
But Barlow missed a long jumper and Maryland (30-4) went back to what worked the whole game: throwing the ball into Crystal Langhorne.
The 6-foot-2, wide and powerful sophomore center scored on two straight layups and before the Red Storm knew it, the Terps were up 76-72 with 52 seconds left. Langhorne finished with a dominant 30 points on 11-of-16 shooting.
In the possessions that followed, the Red Storm managed just two Barlow free throws when the game was already out of reach.
Maryland was just too big and talented on the inside, out-rebounding St. John’s, 46-31, and winning the points-in-the-paint battle, 40-28.
Lanky All-Big East forward Angela Clark (nine points) was negated by the Terrapins post presence.
Barlow scored 16 points and Tara Walker, also playing in her final game, had 17.
Another senior, Danielle Chambers, fought nobly in the paint with the big bodies of Langhorne, Laura Harper (15 points) and Marissa Coleman (11).
Coming so close, but falling short didn’t exactly allow Red Storm players to well up with pride. A trip to New Mexico for the Sweet 16 seemed so close.
“We just proved that we could run with one of the top teams in the country,” Barlow said. “That’s all we proved…If we went to the Sweet 16, that would have put us on the map.”