Queens, NY—Two New York City teams, the St. John’s Red Storm (23-10) and the Fordham Rams (21-12) had a rare meeting in the second round of the WNIT on Sunday afternoon at the Carnesecca Arena in Queens. The last encounter between the two took place more than a decade ago, December 4, 2004.
Both have made strong showings in the last several years, the Red Storm, under more than one coach, have qualified for national tournaments in 10 of the past 11 seasons. The Rams, under their experienced and very capable coach, Stephanie Gaitley, have qualified for the playoffs the last three years. The Rams finished with marks below .500 for 15 straight years before Gaitley’s arrival in 2011. Fordham is the fourth college Gaitley has guided to a post-season tournament.
The game on Sunday was tied twice in the first two minutes before each team had a scoring run. After the second tie, the Red Storm scored five straight points to go up 9-4 at 17:01. The Rams followed with nine unanswered points to take their last and largest lead of the game, 13-9, at 14:27. The Red Storm then went on an 11-2 run to take a 20-15 lead at 11:59. With the St. John’s advantage down to a single point, 24-23, at 7:05, the Red Storm scored 10 of the next 12 points to increase their margin to a first half high of nine, 34-25, with 3:22 remaining. The half ended with St. John’s leading, 38-32.
St. John’s dominance in the first half can be attributed to the play of Aliyyah Handford, a First Team All-Big East the past two years and a member of the Big East All-Freshman Team in her first college year. Handford scored 19 of her team’s 38 points in the half on 9 of 15 from the floor. After the game, Gaitley called her “a handful” to stress the difficulty Fordham had in trying to stop her. Handford modestly referred to her first half performance, “I was just on a roll.”
The Red Storm could not raise their lead higher than six during the first nine minutes of the second half as Handford was contained to four points in the half. Her 23 points raised her season total to 647, second place in team history. She achieved a double-double by grabbing 10 boards. Red Storm coach Joe Tartamella noted, “Her nine defensive boards show how locked in she was.”
The other Red Storm starters stepped up to continue the team’s 50% shooting from the floor. Three reached double figures by their strong second half performances, Jade Walker (17), Danaejah Grant (16) and Amber Thompson (12). Point guard Aallyah Lewis dished eight assists.
The Rams appeared to run out of gas as the second half progressed. This affected both the effectiveness of their shooting and their defense. The Rams netted 6 of their first 11 shots of the half, but only 2 of the next 11. The Red Storm sunk only 6 of their first 14 attempts from the floor, but netted 10 of the next 14. The change in success of the two teams accounted for St. John’s holding a double figure lead for the final 6:36 of the contest.
Tartamella spoke with great satisfaction of his team’s play “I thought we played on of our most complete games of the year. We wanted to play this way all year. [When] we get to get the ball in the hoop, that changes the whole dynamic of the game.”
Gaitley described the ending, “They wore us down. That run kind of put us to sleep.”
Despite the loss, several Fordham players ended fine seasons with good games. Emily Tapio concluded her college career with a team high of 19 points on 8 of 10 from the floor. She was Fordham’s high scorer of the season, averaging more than 12 points per game.
Hannah Missry’s three baskets from beyond the arc raised her career total to 161 3-pointers, fifth in Fordham history. The sophomore needs on 73 –pointers in the next two years to break the Fordham mark.
Grad student Tiffany Ruffin ended her college years with an overall outstanding game. The point guard scored 18, and led the team with seven rebounds, five assists and two steals. Her coach said, “She does fill up the stat sheet. She was a small part in Boston College’s program, but she became a main piece in our program.”
Both coaches spoke of the importance of playing in the post-season for their respective teams. Gaitley stated, “It’s huge. The bar has been raised. If we can build upon the success we’ve had, we’re in good shape. We have a good recruiting class coming in.”
Tartamella is no stranger to the post-season as an assistant and head coach at St. John’s. We’re very excited to move on and continue our season. We can never take post-season for granted. It never gets less fun.”
St. John’s quarter-final contest in the WNIT will be against Villanova, a Big East foe with whom the two have split the two games they played this season.