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St. John's Wraps Up Home Slate With Win Over Pitt

Just the Facts, Ma'am: On Senior Day at Carnesecca Arena, it was a junior who led the way, as Da'Shena Stevens's 15 points and eight rebounds helped the Red Storm beat Pittsburgh, 72-63. Coco Hart added 13 points, and Shenneika Smith had all 12 of hers in the second half for St. John's. The Panthers' Ashlee Anderson led all scorers with 20 points, and Taneisha Harrison had a double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds.

For flowers, the eternal choice between light and dark, defense, and about a page of unadulterated squee so sweet it will rot your teeth, join your intrepid and verklempt blogger after the jump.

Magic numbers. That's what today was about. Today was about the numbers. 4 years, 2 seniors. 1 and 30, Sky Lindsay and Coco Hart. 20 and 9, overall wins and conference wins, the magic numbers to get this team into the NCAA tournament. It was about heart and soul and tears and the thrill of a bonus game on top of a game, but at its very core, it was about numbers.

For better or for worse, the way St. John's recruits and keeps players, we really haven't had seniors who don't play very often and are only remembered on Senior Day. Our two seniors are both starters, and Sky's started every game she's played in. One's been a constant; the other worked her way up from the bench and tried to step into some very big shoes.

Whatever complaints I have had about Sky's game- and they have been legion over the years- I will never deny that she has one of the greatest personalities I've ever encountered in the game. Charming and fun-loving, she's been a great ambassador for the team. She's embraced her role as a leader of this team and mentored the younger players. I'm going to miss the way her jump shot floats in the air before splashing down in a high arc, and I'm going to miss the way she's always dancing to whatever music happens to be playing, and I'm going to miss her mother's indomitable will and boots. (I still remember the WNIT year when Mama Lindsay was bound and determined to charter a bus to North Carolina.)

And whatever complaints I have made about Coco over the years- and believe me, they have been many- I will never deny her effort, her willingness to sacrifice her body against much larger opponents, her hustle, and her fight. She comes to play, and while much has been asked of her, she has given just as much in return.

The Senior Day presentation was beautiful- each player got flowers and a framed action photo, and then there was music video. We will not speak of the music video. I love my team, and I love Nadirah McKenith as a point guard, and I think Jennifer Blanding seems like a great person to hang out with, but for the love of God, they should not have made that tribute rap-whatever-it-was travesty of a video. No. No. A million times no. My heart appreciates the sentiment, but my ears still hurt from the badness. The anthem wasn't much better, either. Again, no. Just no. I think my theory about my team being very close to a girl group went out the window when Monique McLean graduated and Sheree Ledbetter transferred.

Leeza Burdgess is a very promising big. She still needs to have some of the rough edges knocked off her, as she's not as good at keeping out of foul trouble as she'll need to be, but she's got size and knows how to use it, which is what I always lok for in a big post. She needs to get on the right side of the line between aggressive and assertive if she's going to do well at Pittsburgh, but I think she has the capability of doing so. The other reserves for the Panthers were more or less irrelevant. I'll admit that I wasn't paying as close attention to Pittsburgh as I should have been, because it was enior day and I was still focusing on my team. So my apologies to Asia Logan, Marquel Davis, Kyra Dunn, and Yasmin Fuller. If you did anything exciting, I won't be able to describe it to your fans.

Agnus Berenato is taller than I thought. Also, Patty Coyle's jacket fits. Also, we nearly died laughing when Pittsburgh almost iced one of their own foul shooters, given that that was the last straw for the Liberty regarding Coyle. Ah, memories.

I knew Ashlee Anderson had to be something special for one simple reason: everyone on Pitt is either a senior or a freshman. Therefore, if a freshman is starting on a senior-laden team, she must be something special. I wasn't proven wrong, although I think our defense was more focused on Harrison and Sims, so Anderson as the lucky beneficiary. She's got a pretty stroke from the corner. Gets happy feet sometimes, though. She's only a freshman, so that kind of thing can be forgiven. Shayla Scott threw around more weight than she actually has. I think she got a little too physical at times. I don't think she needed to be climbing into players' shorts. Well, not literally, but close enough. Jania Sims was less of a factor than I anticipated- we did our best to cover both her and Taneisha Harrison. Harrison was able to get loose for a few shots, much to my annoyance. Chelsea Cole was never able to establish herself down low.

Pittsburgh played a very swarming defense, and if our passing hadn't been exceptionally crisp today, they might have caused us more trouble, but we were more or less ready for it. Their offensive rebounding was spectacular. There were a couple of points in the game where I looked over and said, "I'm tired of chanting DE-FENSE! No, I don't mean change it up, I mean I'm sick of Pitt having the ball."

I have to give props to Jennifer Blanding today. I'm not quite sure why Kim Barnes Arico has her on a figurative choke chain, but this needs to stop. She gave good minutes, got inside, used her body well against the bigs from Pitt, scored a little, and got a bunch of blocks. At the first mistake, Coach pulled her, and that's not going to fly next year unless Mary Nwachukwu is ready and more than legit. Eugeneia McPherson appears to have left her offense in South Florida; hopefully, it just missed the connecting flight and will have hitchhiked its way to Morgantown so they can meet up on Monday. She also seemed a step slower than usual on defense. Amanda Burakoski looked like she'd lost a lot of the nerve she'd shown in the last few games, and I think that's a bad sign- unless, of course, she only has nerve when she knows Sky isn't going to play, which means things should be all right next year. (No offense, Sky.) She had one nifty save along the sideline that reminded me of Kelly McManmon from last year's team, who always made her best plays on the sideline. Buzz's threes were fairly well timed, though. Keylantra Langley got more minutes than she'd been getting in the last few games, and, um, at least she and Jennifer teamed up on a nice steal? Box credits her with four assists, and you could have knocked me over with a feather when I read that. I don't think she's the right point guard for our system- she's more of a power player, and unless she's really going to develop her slashing game, that doesn't match our speed.

Sky Lindsay chose a pretty good game to show her stuff. She was all over the place on defense, chasing every loose ball like her life depended on it, and while not all her shots went in, more of them went in than usual. Nadirah McKenith ran a very solid game, and her sharp, stylish passes set the tone for the Red Storm offense. When Pitt started fouling her in the last minutes, she was able to build up her point total, and I sort of wish she'd hit the double-double, because points-assists double-doubles are made of win and awesome. Shenneika Smith did nothing in the first half- at least, nothing worth mentioning unless I'm Coach and I'm lecturing her about defensive lapses, questionable shot selection, lack of court awareness (don't pass the ball into the backcourt if you're in the frontcourt!), and overall epic fail. In the second half, the shots started to go in, and she got a little highlight reel action going. Da'Shena Stevens worked her butt off in the paint, and was absolutely screwed by the refs on block/charge calls. She's become a steadier contributor over the last couple of months- I mean, it's not like she hasn't contributed in most games, but her median is approaching her mean, and that's the kind of player we need with such streaky complementary players. Coco Hart took a little bit to get started, and it was clear that her head wasn't completely in the game, but she worked, and oh, did she work. At least one of her baskets was a putback.

Best play of the game for St. John's: Da'Shena in trouble, rifles a low pass to Nadirah, who rockets it over to Sky, who hits the long jumper. Nadirah's rifle pass to Shenneika for a soaring lay-up was pretty nifty too.

The referees were a bit inconsistent on their block/charge calls, and they let play get a little more physical than I would have liked, but overall it wasn't too much of a hot mess. One of the refs made a couple of really lousy calls in St. John's favor, especially the "simultaneous possession" where Da'Shena had her hands on the ball for about a nanosecond.

We bent but didn't break. I think that was the biggest thing about this game. We let them come close and we let them tie, but we didn't let them take over.

So you'd think that would be the end of it, right? We're two and a half pages into the Game Notes of Doom, all the bases have been covered, the pithy analysis has been provided, it's time to go home and rub your eyes after an assault by lots of text, right? Not quite. Because it's Senior Day, and we're probably in the NCAA Tournament, so we're not in the WNIT, but we're probably not getting a nearby site due to other teams being in the way, and while my team is going to Hartford, I'm going to Bridgeport. If this is the last time I'm going to see my team- the last time I'm going to be in my home arena this season- maybe the last time I'll see Sky and Coco- you had damn well better believe I ain't leaving until they kick me out. And as it happened, the men were on ESPN, playing at Villanova in a game that was a nail-biter at the time, so a bunch of us stayed to watch it on the screen in the lobby.

Oh, and there was a post-game autograph session scheduled. They had to delay that a bit because the players kept wandering away from the table to watch the game. Some of us made ourselves useful by announcing score, time left, and who was at the line to inquiring people around the back and sides. Some of us also went in on "DE-FENSE!" and "LET'S GO JOHNNIES!" chants. Yes, I know it's ridiculous to do that for a game that's on television, and trying to disconcert a televised shooter is generally not all that effective, but it was a warm and wonderful bonding feeling. (And yes, people behind me, I'm aware of the fact that they can't hear me counting down the shot clock- but the people behind us can, and that lets them know what's going on with the possession.) When St. John's won, there was general rejoicing, and Nadirah ran out from behind the table and started high-fiving people. It was awesome.

And we got to wish them luck (well, not everyone, because Nadirah and Eugenia did a runner, which is a shame, because I really wanted to say thanks this year to them). And we got to give Sky and Coco a proper goodbye, which resulted in one of Coco's relatives insisting we take a picture with her, I am not making this up.

Good luck, and good-bye, and thank you- that's just the short form, Red Storm. Good luck in Morgantown, in Hartford, and in wherever the committee places you- our hearts are with you, even if our finances keep us from following you. Good-bye, even if the road hasn't yet come to its end for you, because we love you and miss you already. Thank you- thank you for Manhattan, Columbia, Nicholls State, both Seton Hall games, Southern Miss, Santa Barbara, Liberty, Rutgers, Georgetown, and Pittsburgh.

Thank you for the four-on-five minutes of the Southern Miss game, for Buzz teasing us at Seton Hall, for Nadirah's lay-up against Rutgers, for Eugeneia's amazing game against Maryland, for all the times Da'Shena got up again, for Shenneika's acrobatic drives through the lane, for Coco's boxing out, for Sky's hands on every loose ball, for Jennifer's strength on the block, for Zakiyyah's laughter every time she sees us during the entrance video, for Keylantra going to the floor, for Briana's hustle for every loose ball, for the Barnes and Arico families' tolerance of the crazy people in the jerseys.

Thank you, Sky, for snarking your mother at the Columbia game, and your family seeking stats at the LIU game, and your mother's boots, and the incredible family resemblance between you and your mom (and your sister), and knocking Syracuse out of the Big East Tournament yea all these years ago, and every dance move you've ever busted in shootaround, and for the pink streamer at Key Food which is right next to me on the bookshelf.

Thank you, Coco, for liking my hair, and for stepping up into big shoes, and for calling New York home for four years, and for every rebound you've brought down, and every putback you've fought to put into the basket, and for every time you've laid out to draw the foul.

And as the lights go out on the home slate for 2010-2011 at Carnesecca Arena, it all circles back to these small things: good luck, and good-bye, and thank you.