WACO, Texas — Janiah McKay scored 24 points and Auburn opened its first women’s NCAA Tournament since 2009 with a 68-57 victory over St. John’s in a first-round game Friday night.
The ninth-seeded Tigers (20-12) jumped out to a 25-6 lead early in the second quarter, then held on after their lead had been trimmed to three in the third quarter. Danaejah Grant had 25 points to lead St. John’s (23-10) and Aliyyah Handford scored 10.
The Red Storm was coming off its first Big East Conference tournament title since 1988. St. John’s was within 37-34 when Grant’s jumper with six minutes left in the third quarter capped a 7-0 run.
But the Tigers extended their lead to 44-35 on a three-pointer by McKay with a minute left in the quarter. Jazmine Jones had 13 points, shooting 6-for-7 for Auburn, and Brandy Montgomery had 11 points.
The Tigers have won first-round games in 17 of their 19 NCAA appearances, this one ending their longest drought between tournament games. It comes in the fourth season for coach Terri Williams-Flournoy.
Handford hit a jumper for St. John’s on the first shot of the game, but Auburn started the game with a 13-4 run and led the rest of the way. Jones hit a pair of baskets in the first threee minutes of the second quarter, when the Tigers made it 25-6 — their largest lead. Grant later scored eight consecutive points and the Red Storm scored twice in the final 24 seconds of the first half to pull within 31-23.