Good afternoon, fellow basketball fans! For the last time in the 2013-14 season, we're coming to you in surround sound on tape delay from beautiful Carnesecca Arena in the frozen heart of Queens. It's Senior Day at St. John's as the Red Storm take on the first-place DePaul Blue Demons, hoping for a season sweep and a chance to open the door for a regular-season title.
There may be a lack of coherence in the next few days, because Senior Day at St. John's is the first of three Senior Days your intrepid blogger will be covering. (Or, as I've been calling it, The Week of FEELS ALL THE FEELS.) Today St. John's is honoring Briana Brown, Keylantra Langley, and Eugeneia McPherson. And I forgot the tissues. But you're going to have to deal with a few hundred words of FEELINGS to get to game notes for the next three games. Put your sunglasses on and deal with it, or scroll down.
I've never been good at admitting when I'm wrong. It doesn't come naturally to me. But sometimes, when you swing and miss as badly as this, you have to put it out there and accept the plates of crow that will be sent your way. I never thought Briana Brown would amount to anything as a Division I basketball player. I thought she was a recruiting bust who would sit at the end of the bench for the rest of her career, and that the only reason she was going to make it through all four years was because she had hooked up with one of the guys on the men's team. Diplomatic relations, you know?
Boy howdy, did I miss the boat on that one.
Because the one thing I didn't know about Briana Brown during her freshman year, and even during her sophomore year, was how hard she was going to work. She worked at her game. She matured as a person and as a player. (Part of what led to that legendary 4-on-5 stand against Southern Miss was that Briana was in street clothes for that game.) There were hints of it, to be sure- looking back at game notes from 2011 and 2011, Briana's always mentioned going for loose balls and jump balls. But for two and a half years she seemed like she was going to be the scrappy kid at the end of the bench who's scrappy because she has no other options.
Then the game at Georgetown happened, at the end of last season, and she took a quantum leap forward. Going into this season, I was afraid of the leadership we were losing with Nadirah's graduation- well, we found it in Briana. She stepped into roles she shouldn't have had to fulfill, guarding any and all comers no matter their size. She played entirely too much post defense for a 5-8 guard of her build, and she got the job done. She came up with the big shots frm the corner, and hit the deck for loose balls. She earned her captaincy and wore it just as obviously as any hockey player with a C stitched to their jersey. I still maintain it is a crime and a travesty that there were two MIPs in the Big East last year and neither of them was Briana.
Improving steadily on the court, excelling off it, maturing as both a person and an athlete- Briana Brown has become what an NCAA student-athlete should be, and I wish her all the best.
It's easy to boil a player down to one thing that they do, and do well, and is exactly what you expect them to do. It becomes a running joke, in a way, a useful shorthand to say that she's on her game, a recurring gag that can become overused if you're not careful.
So for two years, the running gag was that Keylantra Langley could only hit a shot as the shot clock expired. Any other time, she was essentially useless offensively. Her maturation was a much longer and more gradual process, going from a freshman full of stupid mistakes to a junior full of big shots. As a senior, she's developed her offensive game and become even more of a defensive force. Sixth woman when we need her, starter when someone's got to step up to the plate- it's a rare game when Keylantra doesn't bring the energy and intensity that the team needs.
She's still got the big shot knack, don't get me wrong. Someone, someday, is going to have to go back through four years of game tape and calculate what percentage of Key's shots were with the shot clock running down, or when the team needed them most. I'd be willing to wager that the majority of her shots were clutch ones, and that's a skill that's hard, if not impossible, to learn.
Off the court, she's funny and charming when she puts her mind to it- she's said some stupid things in the past that I think and hope that she regrets now. She'll go far when she puts her mind to it.
I should have been writing all this about Eugeneia McPherson last year. She should have been the third senior last year, not Mary Nwachukwu. Torn ACLs are terrible things and they lead to despair.
It's a cliché to say that she grew up out of the adversity, but I think she did. She stepped into a role this year that she hadn't played in years, filling some fairly impressive shoes. She's been whatever we asked her to be, from sixth woman to shooting guard to point guard, from shooter to defensive stopper, from floor leader to team leader and everything in between.
Before the knee, she was fearless, driving into the lane like a pinball in search of free throws. She gained some of that back late this season, but I think she lost most of her fearlessness on offense when she got hurt. She remains a defensive maven with quick hands and steady eyes.
She might not be as acclaimed as her teammates who were drafted last year, but without her, we don't go to all those NCAA tournaments. She's held down the fort. She's been a leader and shown the heart of a champion. She's given us everything she has to give, and that's ultimately all you can ask. With her bachelor's already in hand and credits towards her enxt degree, she's well on her way to kicking the butt of whatever field awaits her after graduation.
(FEELINGS END HERE. Game Notes of Doom resume.)
Nadirah managed to sneak in before we did, but prestige hath its privileges, and we need all the support we can get. RedZone looks to be making an appearance, judging from the shirts arrayed behind what is normally the student section. They usually do come out for Senior Day, but it's still reassuring.
Sandra Udobi's out for the game, with her shoulder in a sling. She is, however, wearing a gorgeous black-and-white dress and rocking it in every way possible.
As is to be expected, I bawled during the Senior Day ceremony. SO MANY FEELINGS. Senior Days always make me cry, and I forgot my tissues. I knew Briana Brown was solid academically, but I didn't realize how accomplished she was off the floor. It's always worse when you know this is the last time you're going to see them (can't get out to Chicago, no convenient tournament sites). Oh God, here I go again tearing up. Too many feelings, cannot cope!
At halftime, DePaul is up 43-36, but St. John's showed some signs of life at the end of the half. Too many defensive breakdowns for my liking- DePaul is getting sweet finger rolls on the inside and open threes from the corner. We're not penetrating hard enough. (No jokes, please.) We have to play like the team that dominated the conference in early going, the team that walked into McGrath and won, the team that curb-stomped Creighton here. That's what a Big East champion plays like.
And that's what DePaul played like today. That's not what St. John's played like past, maybe, the first two minutes of the second half. Congrats to DePaul- they did what they had to do and then some. More than I can say for St. John's.
Doug Bruno emptied the very end of his bench at the end of the game, so we got to see a few of the freshmen who don't get a lot of time. They wore off the last two minutes or so of the game well enough, with ShaKeya Graves showing off a little speed. Something about Centrese McGee, in build and hairstyle, reminds me of archival footage of Jamelle Elliott I've seen in her playing days. She's a little faster and a little shorter, and tough as nails. Kelsey Reynolds had a nice little midrange game and seemed to evade our defense gracefully. Brandi Harvey-Carr is a big girl- used her size well enough down low, but got into some foul trouble, and with both teams going with smaller, faster lineups, she wasn't in for much of the time. Jessica January shows a lot of promise- very quick hands, very good reaction time, though she also tends to quickly make a lot of freshman mistakes. But I imagine those will wear off as she ceases being a freshman. They're going to need her in the next couple of years, after Hrynko graduates.
Jasmine Penny uses her arms effectively, and rather close to illegally, getting tangled upw ith her assignment on both sides of the floor. She ran the baseline well and converted easily at the basket. Megan Rogowski killed us from the outside- we just lost her and let her get open threes for quite some time, especially in the first half. Charise Jenkins took over early in the second half for DePaul, cutting to the lane and hitting jumpers. Megan Podkowa left no impression, though I suppose that could be because I kept mixing her up with the other Megan. I'm sorry, Megan Podkowa. You rebounded well according to the box score, so you must have done things right. I just don't remember them. Brittany Hrynko cut through our once-vaunted defense like a hot knife through butter. She showed off some nice moves on the inside as well, including some sweet finger rolls. Actually, DePaul was strong with that shot in general.
They were much faster than I was expecting, playing the passing lanes well and knocking away careless dribbles and bad passes. I think they took the loss in Chicago to heart and decided that it wasn't happening again.
More than I can say for my team. I don't know if Tartamella was told he had to be careful with Gina, or if he just decided that the homestretch of the season was the perfect time to start experimenting with a freshman point guard, but we saw way too much of Aaliyah Lewis in this game, and she demonstrated a complete lack of judgment on the floor. She took shots she had no business taking, she made bad passes, and she showed no clock awareness. We were in deep trouble every time she was on the floor. Jade Walker looked like a young woman whose confidence had been shaken to its core. She couldn't hang on to the ball, she didn't look comfortable on the floor, and we all thought it was a miracle that she finally got a good call in her favor. We needed her to be strong today in Sandie's absence, and she had nothing left. Selina Archer played briefly, demonstrated that she had no interest in pursuing rebounds, and was summarily deposited back on the bench. Mallory Jones was brought in as a desperation move in the second half, when we needed an offensive burst, but she was never used, which rather defeats her purpose. Danaejah Grant couldn't hang on to the ball, made bad decisions, and missed easy shots. Being without Sandie shortened our bench more than you would expect from a player who doesn't see a lot of minutes, but her absence meant that we lost a lot of flexibility with our bench.
Amber Thompson tore down all the rebounds, but her defense was spotty and she's got to hit the easy shots on the inside. I think she had at least two come off the rim. So did Aliyyah Handford, and Aliyyah spent a lot of time looking for shots for herself instead of the best shot. If you're in the middle of a box-and-1, you are NOT OPEN, Aliyyah, you are in fact the furthest thing from open that you could conceivably be. Defenses have learned to adapt to her, and she seems to be refusing to learn to adapt to them. Instead, she makes stupid decisions that don't help her team. Eugeneia McPherson came on strong in the second half, when there was still a chance that we could have gotten back into the game. It fell apart, though, as everything we've done in the last two weeks or so has. She was in and out a lot, enough that we were wondering about her health. Keylantra Langley played with the most energy of the three seniors, especially in the first half. I think we saw less of her in the second half, but at this point I'm not even sure anymore. Briana Brown got some tough assignments- there's no rhyme or reason to having her on Brandi Harvey-Carr. She came up with some good shots, but was hobbled by foul trouble.
No energy. No interest in defending. No desire. No belief that they deserve to win the Big East. They looked more like the teams that scraped into the WNIT than the team that showed so much promise to start the conference season. I don't understand hwo we fell apart like this, but I'm starting to wonder if the issue isn't as much with the players as it is with the gentleman who professes to be in charge. I genuinely wonder how much of this team's respect and attention he still has, and how much they've tuned him out. I've never heard him say a good thing on the bench (though I don't sit by the bench often) and plenty of relentless negativity turned on the team, almost never on the officials. I know this sounds hypocritical, given my comments, but guess what? He's the guy who's paid a fairly decent amount of money to work with these players; I'm the girl who sits in the stands and yells at everyone.
It was Senior Day. Gina McPherson's put in five years for this team- five years, not four, because of that damn ACL against Hartford last season. If anyone in that class deserved a curtain call, it was Gina. Instead, she was pulled with about four minutes to go, with no indication that she wasn't returning, and never came back into the game. Then again, I suspect the only reason Briana got a curtain call of a sort was because she fouled out of the game. Key was the only one that we could give a proper send-off.
On the flip side, DePaul sent in the end of their bench with about a minute to go, ran down the shot clock, then pretty much let the ball go out of bounds on the ensuing offensive rebound. (That would have been the time to get Gina back in the game, Joe.) I might grief Doug Bruno when he's arguing with referees, but the man is a class act with a class team. You can make the argument that he's only had one really bad swing-and-miss in that regard.
The officiating was pretty bad, but you can't really blame them at this point. That doesn't explain the lack of intensity we played with today. That doesn't excuse it, either.
I think we were all in disbelief in the stands. We were sitting next to Amber's family, as their usual section was occupied by the time they arrived, and Amber's mom kept burying her face in her hands every time we missed an easy lay-up. The band was even getting sarcastic, and they don't do that.
Then again, it's harder to decide whether we should care when it's clearer and clearer that the administration cares about women's basketball only to the extent that it keeps the school out of trouble vis-à-vis Title IX issues. One of my neighbors at Carnesecca was able to get to the pre-game reception before the Marquette game, and even though it was supposed to be a women's basketball event, all anyone from the school wanted to talk about was the men's team. They couldn't get it through their heads that she wasn't interested. We have the same problem when talking to random St. John's fans. They want to know what we think about the men's team, and it just doesn't click with them that we don't care. But that's a tangent, and Key, Bri, and Gina deserve better than my tangents.
Then again, they deserved better than this game.