A version of this piece was published in The Queens Courier on Tuesday, March 26, 2013.
When the odds were against the St. John’s women’s basketball team this season they were able to overcome.
They the season began under a rookie head coach, had a slow start and lost a starter from an early injury, but the Red Storm battled their way into the NCAA tournament for the fourth straight year.
Looking once again to overcome a tough challenge, the No. 10 seed Johnnies eliminated a 13-point deficit to force overtime against No. 7 seed University of Dayton with just more than five minutes left in regulation. But the Red Storm’s season came to an end as the Flyers, lead by sophomore Andrea Hoover’s 24 points and seven rebounds, escaped in double overtime, 96-90, at the first-ever NCAA women’s basketball tournament games hosted at Carnesecca Arena on March 24, in front of 2,717 fans.
“We could have gave up,” head coach Joe Tartamella said. “I thought our players made great plays, I thought they made important plays to get us back in the game and you know we came up short. That’s what it comes down to.”
In the second overtime the Johnnies ran out of offensive. Dayton’s (28-2) Kelley Austria set the pace for the Flyers by scoring seven of her 21 points in the final overtime.
While senior Shenneika Smith, who had 18 points and five rebounds in 50 minutes, didn’t score in the final five. And senior Nadirah McKenith, who narrowly missed a triple-double with 22 points, ten assists and nine rebounds, played 44 minutes, but fouled out in the first overtime.
“We play in a lot, a lot of minutes, and that’s just who we are, there’s no excuse,” Tartamella said. “At that point in the game though and at this point in the season, and for what’s on the line, you can’t be tired.”
The Johnnies (18-13) struggled to keep pace with the Flyers until the final minutes when they tighten their defense and chipped away at the Flyer’s double-digit lead.
Down two points with 5.7 seconds left in regulation, McKenith took charge. She dribbled the length of the court and scored a layup around two Dayton defenders at the buzzer to tie the game, 75-75, and send it into overtime.
The senior guard thought she could see the outcome of the game after that play.
“We knew once we were going in overtime we thought we could beat them, we had to make a push,” McKenith said. “We just went out there and fought. We thought we had the momentum, but we didn’t.”
The game marks the end of McKenith and Smith’s college careers and although the pair has been defeated in four consecutive NCAA appearances, this loss left an even more bitter taste.
“We’ll always remember this one,” Smith said. “This one probably hurt more than freshman year, because it’s our last one. At least when we lost when we were freshman we had a couple more years to try and get back.”
But though the darkness of a loss, there was a bright spot in freshman guard Ashley Perez, who checked in from the second half, and hit some big shots to help the Johnnies almost complete the upset.
Down 73-67 with 1:05 remaining, McKenith found an open Perez, who hit a three pointer to close the gap to just one possession. Perez finished with 17 points in 21 minutes, paving the way for the future of the Red Storm.
“It was exciting,” Perez said. “Coach called it yesterday in practice. He said ‘I might hit some big shots today.’ So it was just nice knowing that everyone believed in me.”