South Orange, NJ - It wasn't easy. Facing a Big East rival never is.
Seton Hall defeated St. John's 78-73 last Sunday at Walsh Gymnasium, but not before a 20 point lead by the Pirates dissipated to a one possession game with just two minutes to play.
The Pirates never lost the lead and eventually closed out a win that put them in the Big East Conference lead. Three (plus) points and a few conference tempo free numbers:
1. Seton Hall created problems with penetration. Ka-Deidre Simmons and Daisha Simmons both got in the lane, finishing or dishing out to perimeter shooters on the weakside. Their collective ability to penetrate puts pressure on opposing defenses as it did against St. John's. Ka-Deidre Simmons led Seton Hall with 22 points, handing out 6 assists against only two turnovers. Daisha Simmons added 21 points. She did commit 5 turnovers but came up with three steals. For the game the Pirates shot 10 of 26 from beyond the arc for a 39% percentage.
2. St. John's was not going away. With eight minutes remaining Seton Hall enjoyed a 70-50 lead and the Pirate faithful senses win number 20 was just a few minutes away. No one told the Red Storm. Possession by possession they inched back. It wasn't really full court pressure to force turnovers. Rather, sound defense to get stops while heating up offensively on their own end.
"They (St. John's) hit about nine straight shots," Seton Hall coach Tony Bozzella said. "We are not surprised they made a run. They have two of the best players (Alliyyah Handford, a game high 26 points, and Amber Thompson) in America and are too good to not rally."
3. Rebounding was a key. Bozzella was extremely concerned over Thompson, a senior forward who has been a tough matchup in the past. He knew completely shutting her down was impossible. Bozzella's game plan was to limit her as much as possible especially on the boards. Thompson scored 15 points with 8 rebounds (2 on the offensive end). Seton Hall had a slight 39-38 rebounding edge. Tabatha Richardson-Smith a deadly three point shooter, scored 14 points. More important the 6-foot junior forward was a game high rebounder with 13 (5 of them offensive).
3A: The excitement is back. The Walsh crowd was listed as 1638.
"Remember our first game last November a year ago," Bozzella asked. "You could have counted the fans in the stands. Now the place is packed and our fans are very much behind us and our success."
Among those in the crowd were basketball alums Jodi Brooks and Dawn Johnson from the Sweet 16 NCAA team in '94 are among the regulars. Post game they (basketball alumni) are invited to the coaches offices to relax and meet current players. All part of the family atmosphere.