After trailing by 17 points in the first half Sunday against St. John's, the William and Mary women's basketball team got within a bucket of the reigning Big East champion in the third quarter before the Red Storm used a 15-0 run to pull away in a 73-57 win.
William and Mary, which hosts Richmond 7 p.m. Friday, was at a size disadvantage but acquitted itself well down low in the season opener for each team, losing the rebounding battle 32-29 and points in the paint 34-30.
"I was real excited with the energy and the focus that we played with," Tribe coach Ed Swanson said, "but I was exceptionally pleased with our ability to rebound with St. John's."
The Red Storm was coming off its sixth appearance in the NCAA tournament in the last seven seasons and was picked to finish sixth in the Big East this season, led by Jade Walker and point guard Aaliyah Lewis.
Walker, a versatile 6-1 senior, had a game-high 18 points Sunday to go along with seven rebounds and four blocks. Lewis, 5-5 and shifty, tallied 12 points, five rebounds, six steals, and three assists.
St. John's forced 18 turnovers, leading to 27 points and William and Mary forced 20, scoring 21 points off the takeaways after leading the Colonial Athletic Association in steals last season.
"We turned them over 20 times, which is a positive," Swanson said, "but I don't think we capitalized like we're going to in the future."
Walker made a couple of big plays in the third-quarter surge that helped give St. John's a 60-42 lead entering the fourth quarter. First, she snagged a rebound on an air ball and kicked it out to Lewis, who sank an off-balance 3-pointer from the top of the key to barely beat the shot clock. Then, right out of a sideline out-of-bounds play, Walker nailed her only 3-point attempt of the game to put the visitors from New York up 53-38.
A pair of Latrice Hunter free throws trimmed the Red Storm's lead to single digits early in the fourth quarter, but Walker answered with a turnaround jumper before a couple of free throws pushed the advantage back to 13 points with 4:27 left.
St. John's shot 56 percent on the afternoon and William and Mary 34 percent. The Tribe shot 3-of-17 from beyond the arc, with senior guard Marlena Tremba knocking down each of those, and having to work for them.
Tremba and senior Alexandra Masaquel each had 13 points to lead William and Mary and sophomore Abby Rendle had 10 points and seven rebounds.
"I don't think I got any catch-shot looks," Tremba said. "I think I had to work for pretty much every shot, whether it was off the dribble or someone setting a screen for me, just because they're long and athletic."
Swanson said William and Mary wasn't effective against St. John's press; the Red Storm scored 14 fast break points and held William and Mary to six.
The third-year Tribe coach added the team needed to a do a better job of getting Rendle lower on the block and creating better looks for Masaquel, who was named to the preseason CAA second team along with Tremba.
"Athletically, I don't know if there was much of a difference," Swanson said. "I really thought we battled extremely hard. I thought we cut to get open. I thought Marlena did an excellent job from last year to this year in not letting the physical play bother her of cutting hard and getting the ball into her in good spots."
Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.