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St. John’s women drop NCAA heartbreaker

St. John's Shenneika Smith (c.) reacts during the second half of the Red Storm's game against Dayton. AP Photo/Frank Franklin II
TimesLedger Newspapers

Senior guard Nadirah McKenith sat on the bench with her head in her hands as she watched her St. John’s team lose 96-90 at home to Dayton in double overtime in the first round of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament Sunday afternoon.

She led her team into the first overtime with a heroic last second layup, and recorded a team high 22 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds. McKenith wasn’t able to finish what she started after fouling out on a charge call with 28 seconds remaining in the first overtime and her team leading 84-82.

Without McKenith’s leadership, the No. 10-seeded Red Storm (18-13) allowed the Flyers (28-2) to tie on a jump shot from Amber Deane with 16 seconds left, bringing the game to a second overtime where No. 7 Dayton took full control of the game.

“We certainly missed her,” said first-year Red Storm Coach Joe Tartamella of McKenith. “She’s our leader on the court. She’s our general.”

Senior Shenneika Smith, who led St. John’s in scoring throughout the season, was unable to score in either overtime period. She finished with 18 points in the game, while playing every minute.

“It’s not a great feeling,” she said. “We wanted to get the W. It’s terrible right now.”

The Red Storm struggled throughout regulation defending Dayton, which routinely hit its open shots, including 10 three-pointers in the game. Sophomore Andrea Hoover scored a career-high 24 points to lead the Flyers. Freshman Kelley Austria added a career-high 21 off the bench, while also playing shut down defense on Smith throughout the second half and overtimes.

Dayton led St. John’s by 13 with 5:20 left to play in regulation, but the Red Storm never quit.

“I never thought throughout most of the game that we weren’t going to come back, because that’s just what we’ve done,” Tartamella said. “I knew we had a run in us, the question was if we could get stops.”

Those started to come for the Red Storm in the final five minutes, when they went on a 21-8 run to end regulation capped by McKenith’s coast-to-coast layup as the buzzer sounded.

“We thought we had the momentum, but we didn’t win,” McKenith said.

Freshman Ashley Perez was a large part of the comeback, scoring all 17 of her points in the second half and overtime periods. Perez’s outburst had the team feeling optimistic about hers, and the team’s future.

“I knew she was going to have a breakout game soon, but this was a big game for her to do it,” McKenith said.

St. John’s returns the bulk of its team next year, with just McKenith and Smith graduating. Although losing in double overtime in the final game of your career isn’t desirable, Smith and McKenith were both positive about their careers and effort on Sunday after playing in their fourth-straight NCAA tournament.

“Even though we lost today, I don’t think we have any regrets,” Smith said. “We came out hard, we fought, we were down and came back.”

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