Eugenia McPherson scores 20 as St. John's downs Seton Hall

NEW YORK -- Eugenia McPherson had been in a shooting slump, so she got to the gym early to work on her jumper.

The extra work paid off as she scored a career-high 20 points, hitting four 3-pointers, to lead St. John's (No. 21 ESPN/USA Today, No. 20 AP) to a 71-52 win over Seton Hall on Wednesday night in the Big East opener for both teams.

"She's a streaky shooter and if she gets hot she can knock down some shots for us," St. John's coach Kim Barnes Arico said.

Shenneika Smith added 13 points and 10 rebounds for the Red Storm.

Trailing 5-4 early on, St. John's went on a 21-6 run over the next 8 minutes to take a 16-point lead with 6:27 left in the half. McPherson had eight points during the spurt, including consecutive 3-pointers that made it 23-11.

"McPherson came in and changed the game," Seton Hall coach Anne Donovan said. "We saw when we scouted she was struggling from the 3-point line."

Nadirah McKenith followed those 3s with back-to-back steals. She threw a nifty bounce pass through three people to a streaking Smith, who converted it for an easy layup.

McKenith then took the second steal the length of a floor for her own layup that gave St. John's a 27-11 advantage.

The sophomore point guard has been bothered by a groin injury the past few games, but is working her way back to 100 percent.

"I'm getting there slowly but surely," McKenith said. "I'll get better eventually."

The Red Storm (8-1, 1-0) led by 12 at the half and Seton Hall (5-5, 0-1) could only get within nine the rest of the game. Centhya Hart had 12 points, making all six of her shots for the Red Storm.

Seton Hall closed to 36-27 early in the second half, but St. John's scored six straight points to restore the double-digit lead and put the game away.

McPherson, who was only making 26 percent from behind the arc this season, hit her first four 3-pointers before finally missing one with just under 2 minutes left.

Terry Green scored 11 points and Tajay Ashmeade added 10 points and 11 rebounds to lead the Pirates, who are guided by first-year coach Donovan. The Hall of Famer led the New York Liberty to the WNBA Eastern Conference finals this past year before taking over Seton Hall.

She was coaching her first Big East game.

"I was excited coming in and disappointed going out," Donovan said. "We competed hard through the end."

Donovan is trying to develop a winning culture at the school that has only had two winning seasons in the conference in the past 15 years.

"We need to keep focusing on the good things that we did tonight and correct the things we need to do better," she said.

Pirates leading scorer Kandice Green, who had 31 points and 23 rebounds against William and Mary on Sunday, was held to just four points on 1-for-12 shooting.

It was the Red Storm's seventh straight victory over the Pirates.