Chicago, IL -- Ask any basketball fan about the month of March and you are sure to get a smile and flash of excitement. It's games like last night's game between DePaul and St. John's that remind us all why we post up in front of the TV in March and what we love so much about the game of basketball.
If you were ever looking for a great game and a sheer spectacle of athleticism, yesterday's Big East Semi-Final between the Blue Demons and the Red Storm was the one to watch. There was speed, there was hang time, there were pinpoint changes in direction. Played on the Blue Demons home court, from the tip off both teams were off with no sign of slowing down.
When you look at the matchup between these two teams at the top of the Big East Conference, one a number 1 seed and the other a number 4 seed. Any fan would be excited to watch what is sure to be prolific scoring.
This matchup boasted 5 of the conference's top producers Danaejah Grant, the conference's leading scorer, and Aliyyah Handford of St. John's; and Chanise Jenkins, Megan Podkowa and Jessica January for DePaul.
All of that said, the first quarter ended 14-14 with even scoring across the board for both teams. As March approaches, a head coach is more than likely going to look for their star players to step up and lead across all stat columns. But on that same token, one would be hard pressed to find any coach out there who wouldn't be excited to see their team playing as a whole over individual performances.
"It was great having fun out there. We stayed as a team we stayed focus and most of all we played defense," Aliyyah Handford on her teams overall play.
That is precisely what both Coach Bruno of DePaul and Coach Tartamella of St. John's got from their respective teams in the first half. It wasn't until the last few minutes of the first half that the stars began to emerge as expected in a flurry of scores.
The score was tied 28-28 with 2:57 to go in the half, when St. John's fell victim to one of the best teams in the country at scoring in streaks. They wound up trailing 28-34 heading into the locker room at half after a 6-0 Blue Demon run.
"I thought we did a great job of keeping ourselves in the game even when they made a couple of runs that went to the half, with two back to back threes. We started the third quarter hot; we were able to sustain their runs," Coach Tartamella on his team's tenacity through the first 3 quarters.
A run that was stalled in the 3rd but the Red Storm continued to trail leading into the 4th. Come tourney time and come March, this last quarter of play is everything a fan lives for.
The last minute buzzer beater, the fast paced leave it all on the floor mentality. You could tell by the buzz in the arena and the energy in the air everyone was ready for the second upset in McGrath-Phillips Arena, and so were the Red Storm.
Lead by Handford and Grant, both closing the night with 23 and 22 respectively, by the 5:59 mark in the 4th St. John's had made up the ground they had lost and tied the game at 54.
They then proceeded to take over the lead a mere 16 seconds later. Against a team that won the conference outright in the regular season and most had already placed in the championship game before the tip.
"This is our last year, and we fought all year to get here. I was in the moment; something clicked, and I went off," Handford said on her performance tonight. Grant stated on playing with Handford, "I think we compliment each other. When she is on the defense tends to focus on her, and that opens up lanes for me and visa versa."
As a March crazy would hope the Red Storm came from behind and bested the top team in the conference in the most spectacular and well-deserved fashion. Their W will send them to the Championship game against another Big East team raking in the upsets, the Creighton Bluejays. The game will be contested today at 7 pm central at McGrath-Phillips Arena, the first championship matchup between a four and seven ranked team in Big East history.