Chicago, IL -- One would think both teams would come out with something to prove. However, the exact opposite happened!
So by now you know I like to write my recaps with as many highlights as possible, to recreate the game for those that didn't watch it. However, the first half didn't allow me to do that. Let's just say, this was not what was expected for a Big East Championship game.
The Red Storm shot 33% and the BlueJays shot 25% in the first half. I guess that's what happens when a #4 seed and #7 seed make it to the Big East Championship.
"We struggled mightily on offense, but our players really stuck to the game plan," said St. John's coach Joe Tartamella on his team's offensive struggles. "They kept their heads up, shoulders up."
With five minutes left in the second quarter, Aliyyah Handford got a steal and finally made her first field goal of the night, 15-10 BlueJays. Senior Handford was 2-8, with only five points in the first half.
The only thing exciting in the first half was former Creighton star and current Chicago Bull, Doug McDermott made an appearance.
However, watching seniors Danaejah Grant and Handford from the sidelines was inspiring. Every time an underclassmen made a mistake, they both would run to them and let them know they have to be better. Both would make frustrated gestures which would make the other one come over and motivate each other.
Grant said, "I wasn't getting mad at my teammates, it was more with myself because I felt like I could have done more to try to get open."
In the third quarter St. John's couldn't buy a basket if they wanted to. With four minutes left in the third quarter, the Red Storm were only 1-7 shooting 14 percent. Creighton was 2-5 shooting 40 percent. Both teams combined only scored 15 points.
Ok, ok I'm back. the Red Storm from last night just started making their presence known here tonight at the McGrath Arena. Finally, some highlight-worthy plays started happening.
The smallest person on the court had the biggest fight. At 5-4, Aaliyah Lewis made three backdoor shots going up against Creighton's tallest players, 6-2 sophomore Audrey Faber and 5-10 Sydney Lamberty.
Six minutes stood in-between St.John's and the title. The Big East's Most Outstanding Player, Handford forced a back to back Bluejay turnovers. This time, Jade Walker was able to finish with a spin move, banked it off the backboard for a 35-30 St. John's lead.
Grant fueled off her partner in crime. She made only her second shot on the night, extending St. John's lead to seven.
The dynamic duo were only 9-27 tonight, but somehow they pulled it together and got the Championship win.
"It means a lot. I couldn't see myself playing with anyone else. It's great to be able to play together, feed off of each other. It means a lot to finally win this with her. To end our career on the right note."
"They've got to draft us together. We are a packaged deal," Grant then joked when reflecting on the bond she has with Handford.
Handford found her long-lost groove after she made Creighton's MC McGrory shake in her shoes. Handford's confidence was evident as she released the ball with perfect form over McGrory, 39-33 St. John's.
Only three minutes were left in the fourth quarter, the little giant continued to play fearless. Lewis was again wide open for the back door pass. Her 11th point of the night and she had tied her career high with eight rebounds! Lewis had two assists and 14 points to cap the night off with.
"We needed her (Aaliyah Lewis)," said Tartamella. "She's our toughest kid out there, I don't care about the size. She has been huge for us."
And as the game wore down and as the clock wore down to its final minute, it was apparent that the Red Storm was going to win their 4th Big East championship in overall school history. The starters come off the court, given much-earned respect, hugs were being given. Emotional Lewis started to tear up.
"In the fourth quarter, we got into a huddle and said something needed to change," said Handford. "We decided to lock down on defense. We said we needed to push the lead to 10. We set that goal, and we got it."
Last night Hanford told me, "This is my last year, we want this." And she definitely went out there and took it.
The senior leadership is what won the St. John's Red Storm their Big East Championship.