The type of scoring drought that bothered St. John's much of the season ended up knocking the Red Storm out of the NCAA tournament.
After tying the game early in the second half, St. John's sputtered the rest of the way and fell 67-51 to Tennessee in a second-round game Monday night. St. John's shot 5 of 24 overall and 5 of 11 from the free-throw line and committed 13 turnovers in the second half.
"This has been a thing all year," St. John's coach Joe Tartamella said. "We struggle. We go through droughts. We couldn't have big droughts in these types of games. Unfortunately they did a nice job of creating some of those droughts for us in the second half."
Tennessee, the top seed in the Louisville Regional, advanced to a regional semifinal Sunday against the winner of Tuesday's game between No. 4 seed Maryland and No. 5 seed Texas. St. John's (23-11) was seeking to reach the regional semifinals for the second time in three years.
Cierra Burdick had 21 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Lady Vols (29-5). Meighan Simmons scored 17 points as Tennessee won for the 15th time in their last 16 games. Isabelle Harrison had 10 points and 11 rebounds.
Aliyyah Handford scored 23 points for the eighth-seeded Red Storm.
Burdick credited Tennessee's defensive intensity in the second half for allowing the Lady Vols to take over the game.
"I think in the beginning of the season, we let our offense dictate our defense," Burdick said. "That's why we weren't successful sometimes. I think we've really become smarter. We know that defense and rebounding are going to win us basketball games. At first, we just would say it because it was the right thing to say, but now we actually believe it."
Tennessee has followed a similar formula in each of its first two NCAA tournament victories. The Lady Vols were tied with Northwestern State early in the second half Saturday before rolling to a 70-46 victory.
"It's always a dogfight for us, and I really don't know why," Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. "It could be so much easier."
St. John's stayed close much of the way thanks largely to Handford, a sophomore all-Big East guard. The Red Storm erased an early 11-point deficit and tied the game at 39 when Handford sank a pair of free throws with 16:59 left.
"She's going to continue to grow," Tartamella said. "She's got a chance to probably be one of the most talented players — if not the most — that we've ever had in our program."
Tennessee regained the lead 36 seconds later on a Burdick putback, and the game slowed to a crawl from there. The two teams combined for 10 points in the first 9 minutes, 22 seconds of the second half, as neither offense could get out of its own way.
But the Lady Vols gradually took control by relying on their superior size and stifling defense. Tennessee outscored St. John's 14-5 in second-chance points and 36-22 in points in the paint.
"It's frustrating because we worked so hard all season to put ourselves in this position," St. John's guard Danaejah Grant said. "Then, to get kind of quote-unquote bullied in the post is frustrating because we feel like we have just as much talent as they do, but not as much height."
Simmons scored eight points during a 16-2 spurt that turned a 43-41 advantage into a 59-43 runaway. Nobody other than Handford scored for St. John's in the second half until Amber Thompson finally made a basket with 5:20 left in the game.
"They were basically doing what they were doing in the first half," Grant said. "We just got a little lackadaisical in our passes, which led to easy steals, a couple of turnovers that they were able to convert on. They were able to get a couple offensive rebounds with easy putbacks. That's really where the game changed. We limited their offensive rebounds in the first half, but in the second half we weren't able to shut them down."