Nadirah McKenith closes stellar four-year career by finishing just one rebound short of a triple-double in St. John's 96-90 NCAA Tournament loss to Dayton in double overtime. (Photo courtesy of the New York Times)
St. John's head coach Joe Tartamella's opening statement:
"Our seniors have done so much for us, and they can leave here with their heads held high. I couldn't be happier with this group, I'm really proud of them."
Senior guards Shenneika Smith and Nadirah McKenith on the realization that their careers have come to an end:
Smith: "It's not a great feeling. Obviously, we wanted to get the 'W.' It's terrible right now. We did some great things for the program, and that's what we came here for. I don't think we have any regrets."
McKenith: "I'm at a loss for words, but I'm just so proud of the way my team fought."
Smith and McKenith on Ashley Perez (17 points) and her breakout game:
Smith: "She hit a lot of huge threes. Being a freshman, you wouldn't think she'd have that kind of confidence."
McKenith: "I knew she was going to have a breakout game soon, and this was a big game for her to do it in."
Perez on her performance:
"It was exciting. Coach said I would hit some big shots, and it was nice to see that everyone believed in me."
Joe Tartamella on today's game:
"I think the energy we felt in the building today was what we expected, and I was pleased to see it. I never thought that we weren't going to come back, because that's what we've done. We let them (Dayton) do what they were good at early, they made threes. Those players gave everything they had for us today, and we'll be back."
On Nadirah McKenith:
"She's a special player. You can't replace a kid like that. When she made the shot, (at the end of regulation) it reminded me of Creighton last year. (in the NCAA Tournament) She's our leader, our general."
Nuggets of Note:
- St. John's erased a ten-point deficit in the final 4:19 of regulation by uncorking a 16-6 run that included a 10-2 spurt over the final 95 seconds of the second half. Led by Nadirah McKenith, (more on her later) the Red Storm took away Dayton's momentum and brought the home crowd to life until McKenith fouled out in the first overtime on a call that ultimately crippled the Lady Johnnies in the second extra session.
- Remember this name for the future: Ashley Perez. The freshman guard, who had averaged just 1.2 points per game before today, erupted for a career-high 17 on 6-of-11 shooting, including 3-of-5 from three-point range. The Connecticut native, who backs up her striking good looks with a shot that is just as attractive, played with a confidence and swagger that belied her young age, showing some of the form that earned her the title of all-time leading scorer at her old high school in the Nutmeg State.
- In addition to Perez, four other St. John's players scored in double figures, led by McKenith and Shenneika Smith with 22 and 18, respectively. In addition, freshman guard Aliyyah Handford chipped in with 15 points while Amber Thompson contributed 13.
- After fighting all season to emerge from the shadow of former coach Kim Barnes Arico, who won her NCAA Tournament opener earlier today as Michigan defeated Villanova, head coach Joe Tartamella made the most of his rookie season at the helm, finishing strong with the Red Storm, winning six of his final nine games as his team fought harder with each passing day. Despite losing two-thirds of his backcourt, Tartamella will still bring several valuable pieces back to Queens next season, when the Red Storm will no doubt be among the favorites to win the soon-to-be restructured Big East championship.
- Finally, what more can you ask from Nadirah McKenith and Shenneika Smith after four years of going above and beyond both on and off the court? Both guards leave the corner of Union and Utopia with an NCAA Tournament appearance in every year, including the Sweet 16 appearance last season, and both made indelible lasting impressions in front of their hometown fans today. Smith gave a typical warrior's effort, playing all 50 minutes while scoring 18 points on 8-of-17 shooting along with five rebounds and two steals, while McKenith may have had her finest game in a Red Storm uniform, putting the finishing touches on a great career with 22 points, 10 assists and 9 rebounds, including a driving layup at the end of regulation to send the game into the first of two overtimes. Both perennial all-Big East selections will be greatly missed, and deserve any and all recognition for a job well done.