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St. John's women open hoops season 2-0 after strong showing over Florida

The Red Storm are 2-0 on the season, led by the offensive heroics of Aliyyah Handford or Danaejah Grant, and now face a big test in Marist on Monday night

Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

It's been a pretty good opening week for the St. John's women's basketball team.

After opening the season with a victory against Yale, the Red Storm grabbed a big-time early-season victory in their home opener on Thursday night, defeating Florida 72-66 at Carnesecca Arena.

It's the second game of the season and far too early to make any kind of season-defining statement but a victory over a team like Florida is a huge momentum boost for St. John's and another opportunity for the Red Storm to showcase just how talented this offense is on the floor.

""I'm very proud of our effort, especially from a resiliency standpoint and how we were able to withstand runs, especially in the second half," said head coach Joe Tartamella following the victory over the Gators. "We also made some big time shots and I thought we executed our game plan extremely well, particularly in the first half."

Aliyyah Handford and Danaejah Grant were both dominant in the victory over Florida, notching a second-straight strong shooting performance, netting 27 and 26 points respectively.

Of course, notching a second-straight strong shooting performance, requires something; a first-time strong shooting performance.

Both Handford and Grant have done just that.

Two games into the season Grant has already been named the Big East Player of the Week and is averaging 28 points while Handford isn't far behind with 22.5. Grant's 30 points in the season-opener against Yale were a career-high, blowing away her previous high of 21 points, a number she notched in her freshman season with the Storm.

The pair of have been the driving force behind St. John's offense so far this season, with the next closest scoring threat, Jade Walker, averaging 7.5 points per game.

"They both have the very good skill of scoring the ball, but all I am looking for is a quality shot," Tartamella said. "If we take a quality shot and it happens to be either [Aliyyah Handford or Danaejah Grant] then that's what we are looking for. We're looking for a good shot every time down the floor. We became a little stagnant again today, which we saw in our first game at Yale, but obviously we know who we want to look for and we know who can make plays. At the same time, there are others on our team who have not even hit their stride yet."

Two games into the season, one of the less obvious, but just as impressive stats, for the Red Storm lies in the squad's assist total.

St. John's has racked up 24 assists in two games. The Storm have made 52 shots from the floor.

That means that for every two baskets that St. John's scores, there has been one assist. Now, ideally, any coach would want every basket to come off an assist but, two games into the season, that's a pretty solid number and just goes to show that the Storm is moving the ball, looking for that smart shot, the high-percentage opportunity, before considering the play.

That's a big deal and it bodes well for an offensive group that's shooting 43.7% from the floor right now.

St. John's doesn't get a long rest before returning to the court, facing a big-time, if somewhat surprising test, in Marist on Monday night.

The Red Foxes, while competing in the mid-major MAAC, are a perpetual NCAA-caliber team and, once again, the favorite to win their conference this winter.

Marist is 0-2 so far this season, but don't overlook a squad going after its 12th straight regular season MAAC championship and its 10th straight conference tournament championship.

This is an out-of-conference game but it's a big challenge for both teams and certainly an opportunity for St. John's to stage a full-look offensive attack as players not named Handford or Grant look to find their shooting ability.

"Every game we play is going to be tough.," Tartamella said. "It all prepares us for our conference. I think we also have the responsibilities to make sure we are playing teams that will showcase our league. We want to compete."