In a statement-making type victory, the Red Storm knocked off No. 9 Notre Dame 61-51 in its final game of the regular season and locked up the No. 10 spot in the Big East Tournament.
And in her final game in Carnesecca Arena on senior day, senior Kia Wright led St. John’s in both points and assists as she dished out five helpers and dropped 14 points of her own. This most current performance came just two days after Wright helped secure a spot in the Big East Tournament with some sturdy late-game free throw shooting, when she knocked down both of her chances with just 10.4 seconds left against Cincinnati on Saturday.
“She’s not the leading scorer on the team, but she runs the team. She is the team,” said Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw. “She made some big shots down the stretch that really broke our back.”
On Monday night the captain seemed to be playing with a little extra emotion, knowing the game marked the last time she’d play on the floor where she built her reputation.
“I’ve been feeling good all day,” she said. “It was a special day and no matter what, we were going to go out and play hard and we came out with a win.”
“The whole day was really emotional for me and Kia,” added Tiina Sten, the only other senior.
The Irish looked flat from the opening tip-off. Its early lead lasted just over three minutes, and after Wright’s jumper tied the game 8-8, Notre Dame would not see another one.
The Red Storm’s zone was able to hold the Irish to an incredibly low 16.1% field goal percentage in the first half, a feat which head coach Kim Barnes-Arico credited to hustle and defense.
“We played hard and did everything we needed to do,” Barnes-Arico said. “This was the best defensive showing we’ve had all year.”
“That has to be a record for us, in terms of field goal percentage on the season. For a team that averages 75 points a game, it was just a disappointing showing,” echoed McGraw.
After the Red Storm built a nine point lead, both teams went scoreless for over six minutes until Ashley Barlow scored an easy basket on a floater for the Irish after driving an empty. Barlow, who was the game’s leading scorer, notched a double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
The Red Storm came out just as strong in the second half. Both teams nearly doubled their field goal percentages from the opening period. After shooting 28.1% in the first, the Red Storm went 11-22 in the second.
Sharpshooter Kelly McManmon’s jump shot with 7:38 left in the game gave the Red Storm a 44-30 lead. The fourteen point margin was the largest of the night. The Irish made it interesting as it crept within six points near the end of the game and Kia Wright’s fouling out made the situation extra dicey, but timely free throw shooting, specifically by Recee Mitchell and Sky Lindsay, locked up the Storm victory.
St. John’s will now travel to the XL Center in Hartford, Conn. for the Big East Tournament as it tries and avenge a 96-74 loss to Louisville earlier in the season.
“I’m sure they feel they can compete with everyone” Barnes-Arico said. “We need to play like we played tonight, every night. If you can make big plays down the end, you can compete with anyone.”