St. John's Head Coach Joe Tartamella is in his second year with the Red Storm. When Gary Blair started coaching WBB, Tartamella was in elementary school. But it was the younger coach who made the right moves to come away with a win today. St. John's was coming in on a 3-game losing streak, including getting swept in their own tourney. So Tartamella shook up his starting lineup, and used his preparation to do the obvious vs. the Ags: play zone defense.
In what was billed as a battle of sophomore stars, St. John's Aliyyah Handford was the clear player of the game, while our Courtney Walker was neutralized. Handford led all scorers with 27 points on 11-18 shooting in 33 minutes. 8 of her buckets were on layups; she didn't take any 3-pointers. CWalk played the whole game, but was held to 8 points, breaking her string of games scoring double figures. Walker's 8 came on just 2-11 shooting, but the problem was not that she was forcing bad shots. As commentator Carolyn Peck said throughout the game, Walker was too unselfish (she had 7 assists, which was 1 more than our point guards, combined), and the team did a terrible job of working to get her open. Too often her touches were: get a pass on the left side. Look at the lack of an opening. Return pass to the point.
Despite looking out of sorts for most of the game and being frustrating to watch, the Ags had a chance to get out with a win. The two teams traded runs in the first half, and the Ags went into the intermission down 3. The Ags let the Johnettes stretch the lead to 8 in the second half before dialing up the defensive pressure to come back. But the Red Storm hit critical jumpers, often with the shot clock running down, to hang on. A pair of free throws by Tori Scott cut the lead to 1 with 3:03 to go. On the next possession, RS Senior Eugenia McPherson hit a 3 with the shot clock running down. Achiri Ade put back a missed 3 pointer from Curtyce Knox and got the and one to cut it to 1 again with 1:48 left. Danaejah Grant answered with a jumper with 1:24 to go. Ade got a key offensive board after Courtney Williams got blocked on a putback, allowing Karla Gilbert tied it up on a layup and free throw. Tori Scott had a great penetration and assist on that play. The Red Storm retook the lead on a pair of free throws. Walker tied it with two free throws as McPherson bailed out the Ags by fouling in the midcourt corner after the Ags almost threw it away. Handiford got the dagger on a layup with 2 seconds to go, losing Walker on a pick (possibly uncalled moving, but the help wasn't there). A&M was able to use timeouts to get the ball to midcourt for a final attempt, but Walker couldn't get an errant shot off before the buzzer.
The Ags suffered some bad calls in the second half, most notably
- a block call on Gilbert where she was set because St. John's Danejah Grant drove into where Karla was just standing, not trying to draw a charge.
- a phantom foul on Knox where McPherson tripped over her own feet or slipped on a bad spot in the floor.
But bad officiating was not why A&M lost. St. John's looked better than their W/L record, but with the major exception of Handford, there wasn't a player on St. John's that I was as talented as our players. The difference was on how we are not playing well enough as a team, especially on offense. This had the feeling of a game where the Ags beat themselves; this did not look like a team that should be able to open an 8 point second half lead on the Ags.
In addition to Walker not being able to score, Jones and Knox combined to go 2-10 from the field. Jones added 5 from the FT line. To my eye it seems like the team is moving better on offense when Knox is on the floor, but Jones is better on D. Karla Gilbert ended up leading the Ags with 15 points, mostly late in the second half. Failure to get good looks for Karla early contributed to falling behind. Karla added 3 blocks and 2 steals, but was not able to take advantage of her size on the boards, snagging only 5 rebounds. As a team, A&M lost the battle of the boards 34-29. Courtney Williams added 13, but played in foul trouble for most of the second half, and although 5-12 from the field is not bad, CWill had 6 turnovers. Tori Scott was perfect shooting for, I think, the second time this season. She was 3-3 from the floor and 2-2 from the line.
The Ags return for three more home games before conference play begins. Tough to go home for Xmas on a loss like this. Let's hope Santa brings the women the spark that let's them get it together after the break. Next up is La Tech on Dec 28.