It's not that Darcel Estep's team played flawless basketball. Far from it. But as the second-year head coach was the first to admit after the game, it was a great confidence builder for many of her unproven players.
"We played well as a team tonight," Estep said. "We were effective on offense and aggressive on defense. We showed that we have players who can help us become a deeper team than an eight-man rotation."
While guards Latasha Thompson (15 points) and Rasheedah Brown (10 points) expectedly led the Red Storm in scoring, Estep received strong performances from a variety of other players as well.
Senior Crystal Bowen came off the bench to score 11 points, including 3-4 from three-point range. Freshman Nora Gyuris from Hungary, who struggled to adjust to the American game in two St. John's exhibition contests, had seven points and four rebounds and junior Telisha Warner, who averaged 3.5 points a game last year, had 10 points, a game-high eight rebounds and five assists.
"In the [60-56 exhibition loss to EOS Malbas from Sweden] Latasha and I took all the shots, we got all the touches," Brown said. "We wanted to get the whole team involved in the offense. We wanted to go inside more because we had a height advantage. We just wanted to play smart basketball and everyone got involved."
The Red Storm put the game away early as it broke a 4-4 tie with an 18-0 run capped by a foul line jumper by senior forward Katrina Johns to take a 22-4 lead with 9:03 left in the first half. The combination of St. John's playing strong zone defense and a Terriers' offense which simply could not put the ball in the net led to a stretch of nearly 10 minutes without a field goal for a St. Francis College team that started four freshmen.
"We understand that defense is key for us," Estep said. "In this game our defense caused them to make some decisions and allow us to capitalize on the offensive end."
Estep also liked the intensity she saw from her club at the start of the second half. Leading 37-19, the Red Storm picked up where they left off in the first half. Brown nailed a 14-footer from the left side, Thompson received a cross-court pass from Warner for a layup, a made free throw from Johns and a put back by Tynisha Myles gave the Red Storm a 7-0 run to extend their lead to 44-19.
"That was the main thing we talked about [at halftime]," Estep said. "I told them to put themselves in [St. Francis'] shoes. If we were down, we would come out fighting. Our defense stayed tight and didn't go away from things that they've been doing."
And it didn't stop there. Possession by possession, St. John's built its lead and its confidence. Leading 57-29, the Red Storm scored 12 straight points, including back-to-back treys from Bowen, to go up 69-29 with 4:28 left in the second half. After shooting 25 percent from the field in the exhibition loss to EOS Malbas, the Red Storm came back with a 45.9 field goal percentage in the season opener.
"We stuck with our game plan," Estep said. "I like that we had double figures in assists . That proves that we got off some shots. We need to shoot like we did tonight on a consistent basis."
After playing at St. Peter's, an NCAA tournament team last year, in a game scheduled for Monday night, the Red Storm head out Las Vegas to play in the University of Nevada-Las Vegas tournament Friday against University of North Carolina-Charlotte and then either UNLV or Arkansas-Pine Bluff Saturday.
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