Just the Facts, Ma’am: 23 points from Eugeneia McPherson and a halftime lead weren’t enough for the St. John’s Red Storm to overcome the Lady Bears of Baylor. Brooklyn Pope led Baylor with 19 points in the 73-59 win, while Brittney Griner had 17 points, 13 rebounds, and six blocks.
For dizzying heights, depressing lows, hustle, pride, and supporters’ scarves, join your intrepid and drained blogger after the jump.
Good morning, everyone! (Words that should never open a game report from a sporting event. It is too early for this.) But we’re tipping off early due to a Ranger game at 7PM, making this the only time I’ve ever hated my Blueshirts.
I’m not sure I like the new Garden yet. It’s very slick and very professional, but I miss the whimsy of the old Garden. The navy seats with their mahogany-colored armrests are very dignified, but depressingly dark. I’m sure it’ll develop a soul over time, but right now it’s… sort of generic.
A fair number of Baylor fans are here, though I’m not sure how much of that is connected to last night’s Heisman presentation. Fortuitously, the Liberty section is right over the home tunnel. Hiiiiiii, St. John’s band! Hiiiii, St. John’s! You thought you’d escape us, didn’t you? You thought you’d get a little peace and quiet, didn’t you? Fuhgeddaboutit. I’ve seen a lot of orange, not enough red, and not a lot of blue. Maybe the flight from Chicago is late.
Baylor is tall. Not just that Griner kid, either. And there’s a lot of them!
Very nice anthem by Maggie Dixon’s cousin.
WE ARE LEADING THE NUMBER ONE TEAM IN THE COUNTRY AT HALFTIME. This isn’t the best moment of my life, but that’s only because I was at the Bethany Donaphin game and I was there when we beat Notre Dame. And we may get slapped around like a red-headed stepchild in the second half for our audacity, but we’ll always have a two-point margin on the scoreboard at the half. St. John’s is playing fearless and tenacious. Nadirah McKenith and Eugeneia McPherson and Shenneika Smith and all of them- my team, I love them. I love them so much.
This game breaks your heart. That’s what it does. That’s what it’s meant to do. I’m sitting here near tears not because we lost, because I can take losing with dignity, I can take showing effort and pride, because we gave Baylor much more of a fight than we rightfully should have. No, I’m about to cry because I can’t get the image of Nadirah crumpled on the court, holding her knee, being carried off, out of my head. It’s not fair. It’s not right. It’s not fair. And it breaks your heart. I’ve seen ACLs. I was there for Rebecca Lobo and Meg Bulger and Becky Hammon and Stephanie White, and I know what it means if a player stops in a stretch and crumples to the ground holding her knee, what it means if they’re testing the knee for flexibility and she has to be carried off the floor with no weight on her leg. I know what it means. And it hurts. (I mean, it hurts more for Nadirah, since it’s her knee.)
So I don’t know how to put the thoughts into words. I don’t know how to talk about X’s and O’s and lay-ups and WHY ARE YOU SO TENTATIVE MARY and players I’ve never seen when I’m looking around the stands to see if Nadirah’s back, if she’s okay, if she’s moving all right. It also doesn’t help that the Maggie Dixon program had no scorecard, so I wasn’t able to keep track of stats by half the way I usually do, with color-coded pens for each half and squiggly arrows connecting steals to assists to field goals, with running foul counts for both halves and starters marked. I had to make do with the back of a spare piece of paper and my trusty four-color pen. So if I’m a bit vague about who did what, it’s because I couldn’t balance both the makeshift scorecard and the program on my lap. And then there’s the whole distraction of a point guard holding her knee, and I’ve seen that on the Garden floor before, I’ve heard that silence and wanted to pop someone for laughing during it.
Sorry. I’m dwelling, and if you’re in Waco, you probably want to hear about your team. I was surprised that Kim Mulkey didn’t take the opportunity to go deeper into her bench; I suppose she was expecting to do so in the second half, forgetting that past performance is not an indicator of future results. Sune Agbuke came in briefly for a lay-up, maybe for a little size. Apparently Destiny Williams went out a wee bit too late last night and got suspended for the first half, but I’m inclined to think she was showing the effects in the second half. She did a good job matching up athletically with Shenneika Smith, but Shenneika matched up equally well with her. I’m going to give Makenzie Robertson the benefit of the doubt and assume she’s a better player than she showed today, because otherwise, I’m going to scream “NEPOTISM!” at the top of my lungs. Scrappy hustle players who play a little defense and not much else should not be your primary bench players.
I was surprised Brooklyn Pope got so much support from the crowd as she did. Given the way she left Rutgers, I would have thought the crossover fans (the confused folks in section 105 with the Rutgers gear on) would have told her to stick it where the sun don’t shine, but she got bigger cheers than anyone except Griner. She played well in the first, but faded back a little in the second as Williams and Griner stepped up. Brittney Griner is an amazing player- I hesitate to use the term ‘freak of nature’ because someone’s going to think I’m alleging something along the lines of what got Jordan Barncastle popped in the face, which I most certainly am not and would not. But that combination of speed and height is amazing. She did a great job on the boards simply by being able to reach up and pluck rebounds out of the air or tip them away from opponents. That being said, she won’t make your jaw drop if someone plays her without fear. There’s something about Kimetria Hayden that I like that I can’t quite put my finger on. Well, other than the flop. I don’t like that. But she was in the right place at most of the right times and took most of the right shots. Jordan Madden has an appropriate name for sports, and she just kept shooting. I’m not sure if Odyssey Sims is Baylor’s point guard or not, or if they really have one, or if they really need one, but even the Baylor fans behind me were wondering why she was in the game at some points.
Zakiyyah Shahid-Martin came in, got a couple of offensive rebounds, and proved that she couldn’t shoot over someone that much bigger than she is. Tesia Harris came in for a couple of stretches when we were a bit short on guards, but did nothing of note. Keylantra Langley played the bulk of the minutes off the bench, and Lord, I hope she’s ready if Nadirah’s injured. She played the passing lanes well, but I do wish she’d work on her shooting form if she’s going to shoot at that kind of pace.
You know what I like most about Amber Thompson? She’s not afraid of anyone. She’s only a freshman and she’s going toe-to-toe with Brittney Griner. She’s going into the paint and taking opportunities when she can find them. And I repeat: she’s only a freshman. I’m so looking forward to watching her mature and develop. She might be something special. Eugeneia McPherson stepped up, and I’m starting to think she might be turning into one of those people who steps up in big games. (Which is good. We need someone like that.) Shenneika Smith had a flashy defensive game and hit a couple of big shots, but she’s more of a slasher, and there was a 6’8″ presence in the paint who might have gotten in the way of her usual route. Nadirah McKenith was up and down at points, sometimes a step slow and a thought behind the defense, but she was starting to heat up when there was a confusion of bodies and a black and green blur and Nadirah on the floor holding her knee. She got a little fancy sometimes, but she was fearless. They were all fearless, except for Mary Nwachukwu, who needs to be less tentative. Don’t tell me you’re scared of Brittney Griner when you used to scrimmage against Shields and Swords, okay? Not getting the rolls didn’t help, either.
It would not be reasonable to blame the referees for a 14-point loss. Baylor has more talent and more height than we do. I can accept that. To be honest, I can even accept bad officiating. I’m used to it. But I cannot abide uneven officiating. I cannot abide undercutting, hammer blows, and tripping not called on one end and ticky-tack calls made on the other. I cannot abide 20-4 free throw differentials and 16-7 foul differentials. You’re going to tell me it’s okay for people to get slammed with no call? And Dee Kantner let this go on, that’s what shocks me the most. That, and I’ll say the same thing I said after one of these debacles last year. Baylor is a very good team, currently the best in the country according to the polls. They don’t need the officials’ help to score. They can do it all by themselves. Don’t let the way things “should” be dictate what you do.
All in all, we did exactly what I wanted us to do: we impressed a bunch of potential, neutral fans. We proved that, yes, there’s a team out there worth watching that’s a lot closer to most Liberty fans than Rutgers is. We showed heart and fire and passion and grit and talent. We made it a much closer game than it should have been according to all the stats, brought it under the spread, even led them at halftime. People know we exist now. People are interested. I should be happy.
But I just keep seeing Nadirah on the Garden floor…