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Sunday, March 18, 2012
Nadirah McKenith saves St. John's

By Brandon Chatmon
ESPN.com

NORMAN, Okla. -- It seemed like time stopped for a minute, as if everyone was paralyzed by what they had just witnessed.

The eruption from the St. John's bench brought everyone back to reality.

Red Storm guard Nadirah McKenith's improbable, game-winning floater had just ended No. 14 seed Creighton's upset bid, securing a 69-67 win for third-seeded St. John's in the first round of the NCAA tournament at the Lloyd Noble Center on Sunday. St. John's will play No. 6 seed Oklahoma, which defeated Michigan 88-67 on Sunday, in the second round Tuesday (ESPN2, 9:30 p.m. ET).

Nadirah McKenith
St. John's Nadirah McKenith made up for a season-high eight turnovers with a buzzer-beating layup.

"I was just thinking, get to the basket, try to win this game," McKenith said. "They left the middle open and when I saw it open, my eyes got big."

After Creighton's Carli Tritz buried two free throws to tie the score at 67 with five seconds remaining, McKenith had the basketball -- and the game -- in her hands. She drove down the left side of the court, darted into the lane and lofted a shot high over the outstretched arms of the Creighton defense. The high-arcing shot hung in the air for moment before dropping through the net.

"I was praying that it was going in," McKenith said of what she was thinking after the ball left her hands. "I practice that shot every day in practice and this one just happened to go in."

Red Storm coach Kim Barnes Arico drew up a play to get the ball in her point guard's hands to create a good shot with the option to pass if she was double-teamed.

"She's done stuff like this before, she's kind of a human highlight reel," Barnes Arico said. "We feel like when the game is on the line, we can put the ball in her hands and she can make plays."

The Red Storm led for the majority of the game but never could seem to put the lower-seeded Bluejays away. Creighton tied the score at 65 after a technical foul was called on the Red Storm's Keylantra Langley for an elbow to the face of Creighton's DaNae Moore with St. John's holding onto a 65-63 lead with 55 seconds remaining.

It could have been a momentum-changing sequence with St. John's surrendering a two-point lead despite having the ball when timeout was called. The officials replayed the previous play during the timeout and called a technical foul on Langley for using her elbow to clear space.

She's kind of a human highlight reel. We feel like when the game is on the line, we can put the ball in her hands and she can make plays.

-- St. John's coach Kim Barnes Arico on Nadirah McKenith

But St. John's refused to allow it to stop it from advancing to the second round for the third straight season.

"I think everyone used that to pull together even more," St. John's forward Da'Shena Stevens said.

The Red Storm were able to overcome the technical foul call thanks in large part to McKenith. She scored seven points in the final five minutes, refusing to let St. John's become another upset victim.

"She's so slithery, so good," Creighton coach Jim Flanery said of trying to contain McKenith. "She's like a running back who can get through the hole."

Yet, it wasn't McKenith's best performance of the season. The point guard led the Red Storm with 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting, but had a season-high eight turnovers and just two assists.

"She didn't have her typical Nadirah-type night," Barnes Arico said. "But we talk all the time, it doesn't matter if you have a bad game, one play can make the difference in the game.

"Once she had the ball in her hands, heading into the lane, I felt we had a shot."

And McKenith turned that shot into a memorable moment in March.

"It's the biggest shot of my life," she said.