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A Game of Heart, A Game of Runs: St. John's Edges Rutgers

Just the Facts, Ma'am: St. John's led almost wire to wire, despite a big run by Rutgers, to sweep the Scarlet Knights with a win at the RAC, 61-52. Nadirah McKenith led all scorers with 18 points, while Da'Shena Stevens had 16 points and eight rebounds. For Rutgers, Khadijah Rushdan had 17 points, 15 in the second half, while Monique Oliver posted 11 points and 14 rebounds.

For guards with big hearts, towels, road trips, magic numbers, and questionable palettes, join your intrepid and exhausted blogger after the jump.

On the road again... on the road again... what I love is watching my team in road uniforms again... can't wait to get on the road again.

Say what you will about New Jersey Transit, and there are a lot of things you can say about New Jersey Transit, we managed to get to the RAC before the St. John's bus. There resulted a bit of miscommunication due to that, since a lack of Red Storm meant that there was a lack of list of people who get tickets from the team. Credit to the Rutgers staff, though- they were nice and patient with both us and the people messing things up.

Rutgers is in pink, St. John's is in red, and someone's in a sling. I think, by process of elimination, it's Mallory Jones, but since she doesn't play anyway I'm not going to get too worried. I'm going to feel sympathetic, though. Keylantra Langley's back, which helps our guard rotation.

Seriously, it looks like someone barfed up a Valentine's display in here. If it weren't for the gray t-shirts, it might be worse; at least the warm-up tees aren't pink this year. And at least we don't have to explain to some unlucky marketing staffer why we don't want Rutgers-logoed breast cancer tees. If anyone gets after us for a lack of pink, first, they can stick it up their expletive deleted; second, I will shake my pink streamer at them angrily. (Thanks, Sky! Even years later!)

I don't know if I like being this close to the action, but I'm not going to look gift tickets in the mouth. I am nowhere NEAR that stupid, no matter what anyone might think. I think that was also a product of being among the first people here.

Looks like Mallory and Coach Duffy are having a bonding/teaching moment. That's always a good sign for the future.

Someone needs to bring the RAC into the twenty-first century. Y U NO let me find signal, Rutgers?

It's 32-19 St. John's at the half, and the Storm are looking good. I don't want to jinx anything. But the defense is on point and Rutgers can't hit the broad side of the barn. Come on, Storm, let's go. We've got your back. And towels. And signs. We brought signs.

I don't necessarily believe in numerology. But from reading Standing Tall, I know that Stringer believes in 55 like a totem. So I started biting my nails when the clock stopped at precisely 5:55. And I kept biting my nails when we got stuck on 55 and couldn't get a free throw to drop while Rutgers made a run and got it closer and closer and closer... believe me if you want, but I first became sure we would win when Da'Shena Stevens hit the free throw that got us to 56.

Excellent anthem. Color guard was presented oddly, though. Poor kids were all the way in the corner. (Girl Scout love. Troop 4839 up in here.)

Sometimes I think Stringer doesn't use practice to figure out what she's got in her freshmen, she throws them in during games to see what they have. That's an interesting approach, but I would think that Rutgers has enough players that they don't have to do that. Erica Wheeler played a lot down the stretch, but didn't come in until nearly the second quarter. Her shot took some time to adjust, but she looked better as the game went along. Not as smart defensively as I expect from Rutgers. Shakena Richardson committed three exceptionally stupid fouls- two dead ball fouls off the ball and one reach-in that could have been put in a textbook. And then she complained about the call- child, your arm is practically in Nadirah's waist, your argument is invalid. Syessence Davis didn't have much of an impact, but I think she's got potential. I don't know if 15 is a great omen for her. She shoots a bit like Kia Vaughn did from distance. Christa Evans is the kind of post who's out there to do one thing and one thing only- set picks and screens, and if she shoots, it's by accident. Briyona Canty did a great job rebounding- but that's because she couldn't hit a lay-up to save her life.

Khadijah Rushdan, you are amazing. I love her heart and her hustle- and when her team needs her the most, that's when she steps up her game and puts aside her fear. She's faster than I expect from her build, and tough as nails. If she had pulled this game out the way she pulled DePaul out, I would still be writing about her. Monique Oliver was a force on the boards, but between one thing and another, she didn't get the kind of shots she should have. We covered her well, but not that well. Nikki Speed was... the Nikki Speed I remember from when I was still following Rutgers. Lives up to her name and not much else. Betnijah Laney has an impressive ability to get to the line, and a very nice first step- she'll be something special for the Knights one of these days, but she's going to have to finish at the rack to get there. April Sykes came on late, but while she did a great job rebounding her own misses, she couldn't get her shot. We've always played her well, and today was no exception.

Briana Brown for three! Oh, she's definitely growing on me. Sticky on-ball defense, and if she adds even a little consistent offense I'll be really happy. Keylantra Langley didn't look completely recovered from her eye injury, or maybe just like she was out of condition slightly. Maybe she missed more practice than we realized. It wasn't Tesia Harris's day. I think this is the first time I've seen her not get a rebound in a game. Amber Thompson brought the grit we needed off the bench, and even if she wasn't making some of the shots, she was going at Oliver without fear, helping establish our attitude.

Statistically Mary Nwachukwu didn't have a great game, but she brought the defense. If she can keep doing that, and set screens, and maybe bring that little outside jumper every so often, I think I can find it in me to be satisfied. Da'Shena Stevens, whose solid performance I woefully forgot to write about last time out, came up big for us again with the right play at the right time. She's working on her speed, I think, which will be crucial if she wants to play after college. Eugeneia McPherson wasn't as aggressive as we (or KBA) would have liked. Sometimes you just have to shoot the open jumper that the Rutgers defense allows you. She's bringing the defense, which makes me happy. Shenneika Smith was all over the boards- I love watching those go-go gadget arms extend and snag balls or deflect them away from the opposition. She made a huge play near the end of the game to help force a fumble by Rutgers that got us the ball back for two more free throws. She hurried her offense a little bit, but came up with big shots. But I can't say enough about Nadirah McKenith's composure- as she went, so went the team, and that was the key to winning this game. She got to the line and hit her shots, she ran the offense solidly, she picked her moments, she filled the stat sheet. She doesn't actually wear the captain's C, but she totally should.

The Rutgers fans started leaving during that run. Shame on you. I know we were up big, and I know it's hell on earth getting out of the parking lots at the RAC, but that was a motivational tool. With an arena like the RAC, this kind of thing is noticeable.

Dear refs, please to be calling tackles. Overall it was all right. Both teams had reason to be enraged, both teams got away with calls.

We brought towels. Mike Thibault got soda all over one of them. :( (It's okay, Coach T. We still love you.) We also brought signs to commemorate Kim Barnes Arico going for 169, but we didn't take them out and pass them around until the last minute of the game, it got that close. Prepared fans are prepared!

Shoutout to St. John's ROTC, and thanks for the ride! Very much appreciated- I think we'd be on the Q46 right now otherwise. (Also, thank you for saving us $26- you thought we were exaggerating about train fare, right?)

This was an important game, not just for today, not just for this season, but for the area. St. John's needs to keep establishing itself as the top program in the area to make sure they're the priority for recruits. Beating Rutgers and Syracuse does that.