St. John’s holds off late Seton Hall rally in Big East quarterfinals

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ROSEMONT, Ill. – In the final minute, the No. 2 seed St. John’s Red Storm were the ones looking to weather the storm.

Seton Hall, down 10 with five minutes remaining, went on an 8-0 run and St. John’s was 0-3 from the field during that stretch. St. John’s, who had lost four of their last five games and saw the regular season title slip away, looked to be unraveling again.

“Before the game, our players understand that our room for error is not very large,” St. John’s head coach Joe Tartamella said. 

St. John’s (21-9) was able to regain composure and forward Aliyyah Handford sunk a pair of free throws to put the Red Storm’s lead back to four. Handford scored 24 points and St. John’s advanced to the semifinals in the women’s Big East tournament with a 66-60 win over Seton Hall.

“We all just got it together and played as a team,” Handford said. “It’s nothing we can say to each other. We just gave each other a look and came out and played.”

Tartamella had high praise for the sophomore forward after the game.

“You look at the toughness (Handford) shows in games, she’s always there giving it 100 percent,” Tartamella said. “She’s brought a toughness to our group.”

The game was close from the beginning.  St. John’s went on a 9-0 run in the first half to give themselves a 15-0 lead. Seton Hall, however, fought back and went into the half with trailing by one, 27-26.

St. John’s made adjustments at halftime and took a 9-point lead, with 11:28 to go. They took a game-high lead of 10 with 6:40 left, winning 58-48.

Seton Hall (18-13) didn’t get discouraged, head coach Anthony Bozzella said. Relying on redshirt junior Ka-Deidre Simmons, the Pirates got to the free throw line six times and closed the gap to 58-56 in a span of two minutes.

Simmons, who was teammates with Handford in high school, finished with 16 points. Her teammate Alexis Brown also had 16 and grabbed eight rebounds.

“We always look at it like we’re never out of the fight,” Simmons said. “We knew that we could make a run. Good teams can make a run and we consider ourselves a good team. We made sure to keep our heads up and come together.”

Seton Hall forward Sidney Cook missed a potential pair of game tying free throws with two minutes remaining. Seton Hall finished the day 13-19 from the free throw line, but was plagued by foul trouble of their own. Four players had at least four fouls and Cook fouled out in the final seconds.

St. John’s went 18-24 from the line. Both teams committed a fair share of turnovers as the Red Storm tallied 17 and the Pirates had 13.

St. John’s finished shooting 47 percent (23-49). They held Seton Hall to 40 percent (23-57). The Red Storm moves onto play the winner of Creighton-Butler on Monday at 3 p.m.

“I’ve been very pleased with our progress throughout the season,” Taramella said. “At this time of the year, it’s more of the mental aspect rather than the physical and we have to make sure those match up going forward.”