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St. John’s wins Big East championship over Creighton

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Having split the season series with both teams winning on the opposing court, the Big East final was up in the air. No. 4 St. John’s had just upset No. 1 DePaul in the semifinals while No. 7 Creighton toppled No. 3 Seton Hall to set up the first 4 vs. 7 matchup in the championship game ever.

The Red Storm avenged the loss to the Bluejays in late-February by winning 50-37 and securing a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The win ended Creighton’s Cinderella run in the conference tournament, but more importantly, rewarded a strong St. John’s team with a chance to represent the Big East in the NCAA Tournament alongside DePaul. It was their first Big East Tournament title since 1988.

“Couldn’t be prouder of our team and our players and everybody involved, getting us to have this opportunity tonight against an always tremendously well-coached team in Creighton and who we’ve seen many times over the years,” St. John’s coach Joe Tartamella said. “We knew if we could guard and hopefully be able to hold our ground that as the game wore on, we were going to rely on experience, our legs, and be able to kind of take over.”

It was a low scoring affair between the two teams who seem to have forged somewhat of a rivalry over the past few years always meeting in the Big East Tournament. The Red Storm held the Bluejays to less than half of their semifinal total after they dropped 77 against Seton Hall. St. John’s was on pace to have a similar fate were it not for a very strong fourth quarter.

“I thought we did a great job defensively (and) we struggled mightily on offense, but our players really stuck to the game plan. They did not get frustrated, they kept our heads up, shoulders up,” Tartamella said. “The mental toughness tonight for us was so important and having the ability to give us a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter, and on another night after that the fourth quarter became ours, we were able to pull away”

While Aliyyah Handford stole the show in the semifinal for St. John’s, it was another Aaliyah who led the way against Creighton. Aaliyah Lewis scored 14 points, grabbed eight rebounds and dished out two assists while playing every single minute of the game.

“I think she was emotional for most of the game, but she was a key. The kid is the toughest kid I’ve had…(she) is vital to what we do,” Tartamella said. “(She had a) big-time performance, and the best part about it, no turnovers in 40 minutes.”

Creighton’s MC McGrory, who had been hot all tournament long, was held to just 11 points and five rebounds. Her teammate Jade Owens only notched two points and four rebounds while fouling out – the two combined for 39 the game prior. Audrey Faber led the Bluejays with 12 points and seven rebounds. McGrory thinks St. John’s big fourth quarter had her team discouraged and ultimately led to the loss.

“That kind of took the wind out of our sails, and we weren’t able to get much going ourselves offensively,” McGrory said. “They just kind of got some energy from that.”

Handford was named Most Outstanding Player accumulating 56 points, 15 rebounds, nine assists and 10 steals in three games played. The Red Storm will find out what seed and where they will travel on March 13, Selection Sunday, along with DePaul who is expected to make the tournament.

“We’re very excited to represent the Big East as the postseason champ as we move into the NCAA Tournament,” Tartamella said “Our league has been so great all year, I’m excited to see how everybody does.”

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St. John’s wins Big East championship over Creighton