Playing one more home game before opening Big East play, against an NCAA Tournament team featuring arguably one of the best players in the country, last night was as big a game for St. John's as any other.
As it turned out, 40 minutes was not enough. For a while, it looked like 45 minutes would not even suffice.
St. John's had overcome a thin bench and countless missed layups throughout regulation, including three in the final five seconds after two Elena Delle Donne free throws tied the game at 51. St. John's had stifled a Delaware team that shot just 6-of-26 in the second half.
Then came the final second of overtime.
The Lady Johnnies could not contain the Blue Hens when they needed to most, falling in overtime by the final of 60-59 after Delle Donne converted a driving jumper with seven tenths of a second remaining in an extra session.
"We knew exactly where it was going to go," St. John's head coach Joe Tartamella said of the game-winning possession. "We didn't do it as aggressively as we needed to. We had a lack of execution against a great player, which you just can't do."
Delle Donne ended the night with 29 points and 16 rebounds. 23 points and 11 rebounds came after a first half in which St. John's limited her productivity. Her flair for the dramatic was more of the same in a season in which the 6-5 sensation has lived up to her longtime massive hype.
"I think we did a good job of defending her until we let her get to the free throw line," Tartamella said of the 6-5 senior sensation, who converted all of her thirteen foul shots. "I think we know we can play with anyone, but we've got to be able to convert. Our mental state is in a good place even though we've had some tough losses."
With this latest defeat, the Red Storm enter Big East play at 6-6, but the coach who needed last-second heroics to walk out of Queens victorious was confident that tonight's adversaries would soon reverse their fortunes.
"It's going to take them time to find themselves," Delaware coach Tina Martin said of St. John's, "but they're definitely competitors. They have the quality guard play to make noise in the Big East. (Shenneika) Smith and (Nadirah) McKenith will put the team on their backs and they'll find a way, because that's what great players do."
In overtime, St. John's missed each of the six field goals they attempted. It was part of a 28 percent (19-for-67) shooting performance from the field for the night. It was the second overtime game that St. John's lost by just one point this season.
Smith and McKenith combined for 26 points and 14 rebounds on a night where St. John's was limited to a seven-man rotation. Forward Mary Nwachukwu missed last night's contest due to injury. Her absence forced the Red Storm to once again start four guards, all of whom played at least 36 minutes.
Freshman Aliyyah Handford, who replaced Eugeneia McPherson in the starting lineup after the senior tore her ACL five games into the season, led the Lady Johnnies with 16 points.
St. John's will now need to regroup faster than usual, as their first Big East game is an equally stern test, coming Sunday morning against C. Vivian Stringer and Rutgers on the road in Piscataway. Tipoff for the contest, which can be seen on ESPNU, is slated for 11:30 a.m.