This was the last Dance for St. John's seniors Nadirah McKenith and Shenneika Smith, so they knew the end was in sight. It came in a most painful manner. The Red Storm rallied from a 13-point deficit against Dayton in the last 5:30 of regulation, only to lose at home in double overtime, 96-90, in a first-round game of the NCAA Tournament.
Dayton will meet Kentucky, a 61-41 winner over Navy, Tuesday at 7 p.m. with the winner advancing to the Sweet 16.
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"We thought we could beat them, we thought we had the momentum, but we didn't," said McKenith, who fouled out in the first overtime and finished with a team-high 22 points. "Everybody went out there and gave it their all. It hurt deep down to play my last college game."
Tied at 84 after the first overtime, Dayton took control in the second as Brittany Wilson hit a three-pointer and Kelley Austria converted a three-point play for a 90-86 lead with 2:11 left. Olivia Applewhite's basket with 47 seconds left clinched the victory for Dayton (28-2).
"Obviously, a great game," St. John's coach Joe Tartamella said. "They can leave here with their heads held high. We left everything we had on the floor. Obviously we want to be on the [winning] side, but I couldn't be happier with this group." This was the fourth straight NCAA appearance for St. John's (18-13).
Overtime seemed unlikely the way Dayton had been playing. With Andrea Hoover pouring in 16 points, 12 on three- pointers, the Flyers took a 43-30 lead at halftime. Not much changed in the second half until the Red Storm quickly mounted a comeback that culminated with McKenith's game-tying layup with a tenth of second left in regulation.
Dayton had an eight-point lead with 1:35 left. It fell to six on Aliyyah Handford's two free throws and then three when freshman guard Ashley Perez hit a three-pointer. Amber Thompson was fouled on her jump shot, which fell in, and her free throw tied the score at 73. Samantha Mackay's layup gave Dayton the lead with :06 left, but McKenith drove in for a layup and the score was tied.
St. John's finest moment in the contest ended with that sequence.
There was a glimpse of the future with the game played by Perez, who scored 17 points off the bench in 21 minutes. "She was great for us," Smith said. "I don't know if we would have gone to overtime without her. Even though it didn't come out the way we wanted, she was tremendous."
Perez, seated next to Smith (18 points) and McKenith, said, "It was just nice that everyone believed in me. Playing with these girls, these amazing leaders, I'm sad that it's over. It hurts."
DeNesha Stallworth scored 18 points and Jennifer O'Neill added nine of her 12 points in the second half to lead the second-seeded Wildcats to a 61-41 win over the 15th-seeded Midshipmen. "We were a little rusty not playing in a couple weeks," Stallworth said. "We played hard and stayed focused and not let the start bring us down."
The Wildcats (28-5) trailed by one at the half before O'Neill, a Bronx native, took over. She hit a quick three-pointer to start a 12-2 run. She had seven points, a steal and an assist during the burst.
Kentucky had been off for 14 days since losing in the SEC Tournament title game and looked rusty early on.