Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to the first ever Totally Awkward Bowl, where St. John's hosts Seton Hall in a game rife with personal loyalties and awkward situations.
You have to understand: we're friendly with Seton Hall's coach and somewhat indifferent to Joe Tartamella as a person. We go to Seton Hall games and cheer for the Pirates. Your dashing reporter knows the words to Seton Hall's fight song. On the other hand, St. John's is our team, and when the chips our down, your intrepid blogger will ride or die with her Johnnies. So yes, it was a bit awkward when we walked into the arena in our red and white and Brittany Webb made a couple of rude gestures. And getting the Christmas card over to Coach Bozzella was a mission requiring special panning.
This is apparently Old Home Week; Nadirah McKenith already made it clear that she was coming, and we ran into former Johnnie Amanda Burakoski (you can understand why we called her Buzz; that's a mouthful), who sat and chatted with us for a while.
I still need those skyline socks in my life, SJU. Make it so. I'm not asking for freebies- just tell me where I can buy them, then shut up and take my money!
Between Christmas break and the men's game at Barclays Center, the band is a bit short-handed. That is, there are six people here, and the bandleader has had to grab a horn and join the instrumentalists. Then again, there are apparently about ten band members at Barclays, so I suspect the issue is more Christmas break than anything else.
Coach Bozzella sat down and had a good long chat with Coach Pellicane, and damned if I wasn't thinking Oh, Tony, if this were the case our lives would be infinitely easier and I wouldn't have to go to South Orange. Not that I'm advocating for a coaching change already, but from a personal standpoint, my life would be easier. #firstworldproblems
Whichever idiot scheduled the first game of conference play against a men's game should be smacked. I feel like there should be some priorities here.
At halftime, it's as close as we were expecting, 37-34 St. John's, but not necessarily for the reasons we were expecting. Tabatha Richardson-Smith has been held down, but Bra'Shey Ali has gone off. Aliyyah Handford has been quiet, but Briana Brown has nine and Keylantra Langley has eight.
All we need is Shenneika Smith and it's safe to say the gang is back together; Jennifer Blanding's been sitting with Nadirah and her mom for most of the first half. (It was a five-player class: Shenneika, Nadirah, Eugeneia, Amanda, and Jennifer. Or, for short, Neika, Nana, Gina, Buzz, and Love.)
The crowd hs definitely filled in, which is making me think there were delays on NJ Transit. When Amber's mom and other folks from Newark are late, that's usually my cue that NJ Transit messed up, surprise surprise.
Seton Hall has hit the offensive boards well. I don't think it's occurred to St. John's that the Pirates don't give up anymore. They're gritty. They're not going to get their backs broken. The Red Storm have gotten their outside shooting going a bit to get a little bit of breathing room.
Yep, we've got the full set. Just spotted Shenneika. Hi, Neika! Seriously, I swear we're not stalking you! (This goes for you too, Sandra- ran into her on my way home after the game. If that's not proof we live in the neighborhood, I don't know what is.)
Hung out a while after the game while networking occurred, and it took security pretty much turning off every light in the lobby of Carnesecca Arena for people to leave. But, given that approximately half of the basketball community of Newark and several alumnae were in the house, I'm not terribly surprised. It was kind of adorable watching everyone meet up. Lots of hugging occurred, which is just a natural follow-up from Ka-Deidre Simmons hugging Aliyyah Handford to end the game.
If there's a moral victory for St. John's on top of the scoreboard victory, it's that Tony Bozzella didn't go deep into his bench. (Granted, Brittany Webb was out of commission, which doesn't help the situation any.) He wasn't able to use any of his freshmen, relying instead of two experienced players. Alexis Brown seemed to play with a chip on her shoulder, but she worked the offensive boards hard, making sure that no rebound was safe no matter how big the player who had it was. (Personally, I would avoid getting all up in Amber Thompson's business, but I'm a bit of a wuss.) She also intercepted passes better than I've seen anyone in a blue uniform do in months, and that's including my Giants. Breanna Jones set hard screens and was the defense switch in an offense-defense switch with Sidney Cook. She had a couple of resounding blocks that really got the Seton Hall partisans going, especially the one that looked like a clean break for St. John's.
The good news for St. John's was that they managed to keep Tabatha Richardson-Smith under wraps for the most part. She missed shots that are customarily her bread and butter, even threes from the wing with a smaller defender on her. The bad news was that Bra'Shey Ali picked up the slack, especially in the first half. She hit a few pretty jumpers from the elbow and got the rolls in the lane. Sidney Cook rebounded pretty much all the things, without mercy and without regard for anyone who might have been in the way. She wasn't a full offensive threat, what with not possessing a jumper and not getting some of the rolls on the rim, but she never let up on the boards. Ka-Deidre Simmons eventually got tired of watching her teammates miss shots in the early going and sliced through the defense in the lane, which I find inexcusable. I'm pretty sure everyone on St. John's knows Simmons. There's no reason to not know how she plays. We clogged up the lane a little better after that, and she wasn't as successful in getting to the basket, but then she started drawing fouls. Janee Johnson tried to get cute in the lane, which wasn't a good idea. She couldn't get a bucket to go down, and got in early enough foul trouble that Breanna Jones started the second half.
Seton Hall is a tough, gritty team. They're going to chase you and harry you and pursue you and breathe down your neck and make sure that you never feel comfortable with a small lead. They stay all up in your business.
Aaliyah Lewis put up a valiant effort, but I think she might have been in a little over her head with Seton Hall. Good passing, though she seems to have taken up Ashley Perez's mantle as 'the one player every team has who missed the memo on zero-tolerance hand-checks' (every team has one, you'll note). Keylantra Langley came up with huge baskets when her team needed her and demonstrated some great senior leadership. One moment stands out in my mind: Amber Thompson had just had a strong move to the basket go off the rim and out. She was furious with herself. Key immediately went over, grabbed her, talked to her, and settled her down. Amber hit both free throws, which is a minor miracle. Danaejah Grant showed off her offensive skills from all over the floor- it's nice to have a good three-point shooter who can also score from other parts of the floor- and showed hints of the kind of electricity that you might see with Aliyyah and Danaejah together. Jade Walker kept getting called for fouls that I thought were nonsense, but gave a couple of good stretches off the bench. She put up a couple of very nice moves.
I always hesitate about calling Briana Brown the Captain, because I'm a Blueshirt, and the Captain is Mark Messier. Or Derek Jeter, though I'm a Mets fan. But Briana Brown is unmistakably the captain of this team and the rock they rely on. She came up with big shots in this game. One stands out: shot clock running down, Bri in the corner with the ball- and she takes the half second to get her feet behind the line to make sure that it's a three instead of a long two. Cans it. She's been fantastic this year, but you'll hear more about me and crow and Briana Brown in March. Aliyyah Handford had a rough time of it, hassled and doubled or tripled, and always seeming to run up against Seton Hall screens on the defensive end. She hit the floor a lot and seemed to be expecting more calls than she was getting. (To which I always say, "You're not getting the calls, put your big girl panties on and deal with it!" Loudly.) Eugeneia McPherson does seem to have forgotten that they put the ten-second rule in place this year- she spends way too much time lollygagging in the backcourt and dithering at the midcourt line. I know that Gina's not a natural point guard, but it does worry me sometimes. Amber Thompson got a lot of defensive attention and didn't seem entirely comfortable with it. She called for the ball while doubled a little too much for my liking. She came up big on the boards, especially late in the game. Sandra Udobi got her second straight start and gave good minutes down low, but didn't play a lot.
The refs really irked us in the second half. It was starting to get a little ridiculous. And then Coach Bozzella started going in on the refs on a call that seemed pretty straightforward from this side of the court, and we got to yell at him for a while. I know zero-tolerance hand-check is a thing, but can it not be a thing in the same game where swipes are being taken at people's faces and jerseys are being pulled?
Our poor band was so shorthanded. It was adorable and pathetic. But they know that we love them.
The place got loud at the end, when the Seton Hall fans started to get excited and the St. John's fans answered them, and the people who had people on both teams weren't sure what to do. Loved every second of it. I hope the atmosphere is this intense at Walsh Gym in February. This needs to be a rivalry.
The perils of trying to play both sides: after the game, while looking for my husband, I encountered Brittany Webb, who denounced us as traitors and said we were no longer welcome at Walsh Gymnasium. Good thing I'm going to St. Peter's on the 31st, then. No, seriously, I like Seton Hall, and I want them to rise from the ashes that Phyllis Mangina left them in, but St. John's is my ride or die team, and I'm sorry if that irks people.