“It never gets old; it never gets less exciting,” said Joe Tartamella, head coach of St. John’s University’s women’s basketball, about his team playing at Madison Square Garden. “It’s the Mecca of sports. No one can rival it. It’s part of the attraction of being part of this program.We have to really always relish it and enjoy it.”
Although the players were no doubt thrilled to play at the “world’s most famous arena,” it’s unfortunate that there were only a few hundred fans on hand to witness the Red Storm’s 64-55 win over Xavier. As the first part of a St. John’s/Xavier double header—St. John’s men’s team lost to Xavier in the second game—the women had to content themselves with family, friends and the enthusiastic presence of cheerleaders, the mascot, the dance team and the school band.
St. John’s women’s basketball is having a decent if somewhat rough season. Post player Jade Walker has become the team’s most dominant figure. In Sunday’s win, she scored 14 points and pulled down six rebounds. Forward Imani Littleton had a double-double with 12 points and 11 rebounds. The top scorer of the day was guard Akina Wellere with 17 points. This win brought the Red Storm to 15-7 overall and 7-4 in Big East play.
“A typical win for us over the last couple of weeks,” said Tartamella. The Red Storm played a solid first half, built a nice lead in the third quarter and let it slip a bit in the fourth quarter before pulling away for the win.
Walker said playing in Madison Square Garden is always a thrill. “It’s a great tradition at St. John’s, a great feeling,” she said. “Playing here is like playing nowhere else. You can’t get this anywhere else. It’s why we all came to St. John’s.”
A winning program that has consistently played in postseason for the past decade, including multiple trips to the NCAA Tournament, should draw. Tartamella noted that many of the Red Storm’s most ardent fans, young players, had their own games to play Sunday. His job is to sustain a winning program and he hopes in time that will generate more fans.
“It’s our job to continue to promote our program, our players, the game of women’s basketball,” Tartamella said. “Give some unique exposure.”