With their shots not falling, St. John's coach Kim Barnes Arico implored her team at halftime to attack the basket. The Red Storm listened.
Eugeneia McPherson scored 17 points and Nadirah McKenith added 15 to help the Red Storm shock No. 7 Rutgers 62-57 on Tuesday night, their fifth win in six games.
''We told them at the half we had to be more aggressive,'' Barnes Arico said. ''The strength of our team is our ability to slash and get to the free throw line. In the first half we ran the shot clock down and got bad shots, in the second half we made the extra pass.''
St. John's (12-7, 4-2 Big East) was 26 of 32 from the free throw line in the game, including making 14 of 16 over the final 4 1/2 minutes.
''We did a great job of making our free throws,'' Barnes Arico said.
St. John's has played well lately after a sluggish start to the season as the Red Storm finally got healthy two weeks ago. Senior forward Da'Shena Stevens missed the first 10 games recovering from an offseason injury to her left knee. McKenith missed three games with a right knee injury. With their two starters healthy, the Red Storm promptly won their next four games, including an upset of then-No. 14 Louisville on Jan. 8.
That streak came to an end with a loss to Marquette on Sunday before Tuesday's upset of Rutgers.
The Red Storm have won three straight against the Scarlet Knights (15-3, 4-1) after losing 17 of the first 18 meetings.
Trailing by six at halftime, McPherson scored seven of the team's first nine points in the second half to take a 29-28 lead. With the game tied at 34, McKenith hit an over-the-head fling on a drive with her back to the basket that went in and gave St. John's the lead for good. It sparked a 10-2 run that made it 44-36.
''The shot clock was running down and I tried to get to the basket,'' McKenith explained.
Rutgers trailed 44-41 before St. John's extended its lead to 52-43 with 2:35 left. Khadijah Rushdan then took over for the Scarlet Knights refusing to let them go down quietly.
She had eight points and an assist in the final few minutes. Her three-point play made it 57-55 with 22 seconds left. But the Red Storm hit their free throws in the final seconds and April Sykes' 3-pointer with 7.5 seconds left that would have tied the game was off the mark.
''I wanted to do whatever I could do to try and pick us up,'' Rushdan said.
Unfortunately the Scarlet Knights were done in by their 21 turnovers.
They had a chance to take control of the game early as St. John's missed 10 of its first 11 shots, but the Scarlet Knights couldn't convert on the offensive end as they kept turning the ball over. Trailing 15-6, St. John's rallied by attacking the basket. McPherson made five of six free throws and Stevens' layup tied the game at 15 with 4:37 left in the first half.
Betnijah Laney scored five quick points for Rutgers to help them build the 26-20 lead.
''We had too many turnovers in the first half. We were sluggish where we had to go and they went to the line 32 times,'' Rutgers coach C. Vivian Stringer said. ''We looked like an elephant trying to catch butterflies. You can't have 21 turnovers and expect to win the game.''
The teams meet again on Feb. 12 in New Jersey.