Shenneika Smith leads St. John's women past Iona

St. John's Shenneika Smith drives past Duke's Ka'lia St. John's Shenneika Smith drives past Duke's Ka'lia Johnson during the first half. (March 24, 2012) Photo Credit: AP

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Shenneika Smith is doing almost everything for St. John's, contributing on both ends of the floor.

Smith scored 21 points while Nadirah McKenith added 17 to help the 18th-ranked Red Storm beat Iona 71-55 on Wednesday.

"She's been fantastic for us in the games she's played and I love her ability to be focused on what we're doing," St. John's coach Joe Tartamella said.

Smith also had eight rebounds, five assists, four steals and three blocks. She came into the game averaging 20.5 points and 13.5 rebounds this season. She's most proud of her defense though.

"It's something I take pride in doing," Smith said. "When I first got here, our former coach asked me to do the job of guarding the opponent's best player and I stepped up to it."

Iona coach Tony Bozzella saw Smith, a New York native, play in high school. He's been impressed with her defensive effort.

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"When we watched her play in high school she didn't care much about defense," he said. "They've gotten the point through."

Smith and McKenith also had some help on offense as junior guard Briana Brown added 15 points. Brown has thrived since moving into the starting lineup this season. She's scored in double figure in all four of her games this season.

"She's done a great job over her three years working hard," said Smith of Brown. "She waited for her opportunity and I think she's doing a great job -- not only scoring, but defending and rebounding. She's one of the hardest workers in practice. She played tremendous defense, I'm glad she's on my team."

With St. John's clinging to a seven-point lead early in the second half, Brown scored six straight points to make it 47-34.

The junior guard hit a layup, two free throws and a jumper during the spurt.

"The one thing she was missing was the confidence," Tartamella said. "You're seeing that come to fruition now."

Brown scored six straight points to blow the game open midway through the second half. The Red Storm (3-1) led 41-34 with 13:07 left before the guard had a layup, two free throws and a jumper to make it a 13-point game.

McKenith's three-point play moments later capped the 9-0 run. Iona could only get within 11 the rest of the game.

Aleesha Powell scored 13 points and Damika Martinez added 11 to lead Iona (2-3).

The Gaels were coming off a 69-point loss to then-No. 3 Duke on Sunday. Iona trailed 27-11 with 6 minutes left in the first half before using an 11-0 run to close to 27-22.

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Brown's 3-pointer with 1:05 left ended the drought and gave St. John's a 30-22 halftime lead.

Smith, who came into the game averaging 20.5 points and 13.5 rebounds this season, moved into ninth place on the school's all-time scoring list with a 3-pointer that made it 61-41 with 7 minutes left. That was her 1,300th point and moved her past Jackie Smith.

The Gaels, who fell to 4-51 against Big East schools all-time, committed 20 turnovers -- 16 in the first half.

"We had 13 turnovers in the first 13 minutes, after that we had seven turnovers," Bozzella said. "We played more competitively. We pushed St. John's. After our last game we played a lot more like Iona basketball."

The Red Storm have won 12 of the 14 meetings between the schools.

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