Friday, January 2, 2015

Defense, record-breaking rebounding guide Red Storm past Seton Hall, 59-50

Amber Thompson broke all-time rebounding record with 20 boards in St. John's 59-50 win over No. 23 Seton Hall. (Photo courtesy of the Associated Press)

As cliched as it may sound, it truly was a tale of two halves at Carnesecca Arena tonight.

Held without a field goal for the final 9:38 of the opening stanza, yet still owners of a 31-26 halftime lead, St. John's (12-1, 3-0 Big East) tightened the screws defensively after the intermission, holding 23rd-ranked Seton Hall (13-2, 2-1) without a field goal over the final 9:30 of regulation en route to a gritty, resilient, 59-50 victory in Queens to end the Pirates' 12-game winning streak, holding the visitors to not just their lowest point total of the season, but also a 29 percent (18-for-62) effort from the field.

"I'm glad that both teams played as hard as they did and lived up to the expectations," Red Storm head coach Joe Tartamella said after his team closed the game on a 16-2 run following a Ka-Deidre Simmons basket that gave Seton Hall a 48-43 lead, a shot that proved to be the Pirates' final field goal of the evening. "Seton Hall has been unbelievable all year. I thought our resiliency throughout the game was just so good."

In the victory, Amber Thompson rewrote the record books, amassing 12 points and 20 rebounds, breaking the school record for career boards with 8:57 remaining in regulation, when the senior forward scooped up a Simmons miss for her 869th carom in a St. John's uniform. Her teammate, Danaejah Grant, the Red Storm's leading scorer; averaging nearly 20 points per game, drove the pace car once again with 17 points on a night where point guard Aliyyah Handford was plagued by foul trouble, yet still managed to secure 14 points of her own.

"For us to take the ups and downs of the game and come out on top," Grant said of her team's victorious effort, "it's just a great win for the program. I didn't want there to be a point where anyone felt too much pressure."

The win, St. John's second straight after an overtime loss to Indiana State ended an undefeated start to the season, was a warrior's effort all around, with Thompson, Grant, and Aaliyah Lewis; whose 9-point, 7-rebound, 7-assist outing not only flirted with a triple-double, but drew praise from the man in charge of the opposing bench.

"She's a kid that you'd love to have on your team," Seton Hall coach Tony Bozzella, no stranger to spark plug guards from his days at Iona, said of Lewis, "and she's also a kid you'd hate to play against, because you know she's always going to give it to you."

Hampered by an ineffective night from Simmons, who turned the ball over seven times, Seton Hall could not get anything going after St. John's turned the final minutes into a meat grinder, forcing empty possessions after the Seton Hall press caught St. John's off guard on the other end of the floor. Playing their third game in a six-day span that included a resounding victory over 14th-ranked Georgia and a come-from-behind win over Butler, it is easy to assume that Seton Hall's legs may have caught up with them, but their second-year coach; as he always does, took the high and candid road.

"I told Joe, I think the difference right now is your defense is better than ours," Bozzella emphatically stated. "When a little adversity hit, they punched us. We showed we're a good team. St. John's showed they were a better team right now."

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