Chicago, IL -- A game of women's basketball is played over four quarters; tonight's win was St. John's fourth Big East tournament title, the game was tied going into the fourth quarter, and the unsung player of the game wore a St. John's University number four jersey.
Four was the magic number, and no one deserved a championship more than St. John's junior guard, number 4, Aaliyah Lewis.
While Aliyyah Handford and Danaejah Grant grabbed the headlines leading into tonight's game and the Big East Tournament accolades after the game, Aaliyah Lewis was the heart and soul for her team. After a rocky start, Lewis pulled herself together and didn't miss a beat.
Coach Tartamella said on his team's performance, "Our players stuck to the game plan, they did not get frustrated, they kept their head on their shoulders. Mental toughness tonight for us was so important in having the ability to win the game."
The battle took place in Chicago, IL at the McGrath-Phillips Arena. Both the Red Storm and the Bluejays floated in on their Cinderella carriages, but as the clock struck the end of the game, the Red Storm kept rolling to the NCAA tournament, while the Bluejays turned back into pumpkins.
"To get to the big dance and have this chip on our shoulder is a great feeling," Handford stated on heading to the NCAA tournament with her team.
As a journalist, I love to cover the Cinderella story. A 4-seed versus a 7-seed was a history-making story and all of the Big East hoped it would be a great game.
That said, the reality of a game played out between two middle of the pack teams sometimes doesn't live up to buzz. That may be why, rather than watching the Red Storm's superstars I was fixated with Aaliyah Lewis.
"Aaliyah Lewis is vital to what we do," Coach Tartamella shared on the importance of Lewis on his team.
Physically, she may not look imposing standing a mere 5'4, and in the first half, she headed to the locker room shooting 2-9. There is no argument she was frustrated and struggling come the third quarter. She had set herself up to either sink or swim in the second half.
Unexpected to those in attendance, but surely expected by her teammates and Coach Tartamella, Lewis swam! She was emotional, she was fiery, she wanted to win, and she was the steady leader her team needed, and her coach could rely on.
"She plays the toughest guys to guard on the other team, she plays 90 feet, she's got to make free throws at the end of the game, she has to run our offense, she's got to make shots, she does everything," Coach Tartamella expressed on what he expects out of his junior point guard.
Like any champion, she didn't let the struggles of her first half and even first three quarters keep her discouraged or reeling, she pulled it together and continued to lead. She didn't turn the ball over once in 40 minutes, almost impossible from the point guard position.
She also grabbed eight rebounds and despite a shaky shooting percentage, tallied 14 points. If anyone questioned it before tonight's game, they didn't after. Lewis is mentally one of the toughest champions around.
Coach Tartamella continued on Lewis saying, "I was really proud of how she was able to bounce back, it showed maturity. She did a great job of rebounding herself emotionally."
As the month of March progresses and St. John's continues into the NCAA tournament, it is leaders like Lewis that play like champions and give March Madness the magic we all know and love.
Aaliyah, her teammates, and Coach Tartamella will find out who and where they play Monday during the NCAA selection show.