Duke expected to take the afternoon game from St. John's Red Storm.
They never expected to work so hard for their 83-76 victory over the Red Storm at Cameron Indoor.
The nation got to see what potential looks like, thanks to a 30 point effort from Maurice Harkless, and 21 from D`Angelo Harrison. The Red Storm trailed 45-29 at the end of the first half, looking outclassed from about four minutes in, giving up 6 of 11 from outside the arc and allowing Duke to hit the offensive glass at will.
But the Johnnies, led by Moe Harkless' 30 points on 21 shots and some active spirited defense from the likes of Amir Garrett, fought back from as much as 22 points down to within two possessions at the end of the game.
St. John's will face better defenses in the Big East, but they won't often have a chance to show out on such a big stage - the early tip on ESPN's main channel, with Dick Vitale and Brent Musberger calling the action (between Bojangles and Coach Krzyzewski infomercials), at Cameron Indoor, with all of its history and hype.
There was a lot of positive to take from the Red Storm's second half performance, not least of which was St. John's ability to suddenly stifle a hot-shooting Duke Blue Devils squad in the second half, holding them to less than a point per possession for much of the last 20 minutes. (They finished the second half squarely at one by my estimation).
But a loss is still a loss. St. John's falls to 9-12 on the season, and travel next to DePaul to take on the Blue Demons.
More on the game, Moe Harkless' big afternoon, and more, below the fold.
Early on, you could say that the mystique of Cameron Indoor got to St. John's.
Or the size of the Duke Blue Devils. Or really, you could say that this is what St. John's looks like right now when they can't get out into transition and has to shoot.
But the second half saw a softer Blue Devils squad and an aggressive, IDGAF look from the young Red Storm. Consider that in the second half, the Johnnies:
- Attacked the offensive (and defensive) glass with many more bodies, cutting down on the Dukies rebounding percentage on both ends;
- Shot far better against a soft Duke defense - 5-10 shooting from beyond the arc;
- Drew more free throws - the Storm had 2 free throw attempts in the first half, 19 in the second;
- Defended Duke better with their zone by making the perimeter passing more difficult. Duke shot 1-8 from beyond the arc in the second half, 6-15 inside the arc.
Only a big Duke lead saved them from "Upset City", as Dick Vitale calls it. Duke had 4 in double figures, led by Ryan Kelly's 16 (5 on his late free throws as St. John's was trying to end the game, 15 from Mason Plumlee, 14 from Andre Dawkins, and 12 from Austin Rivers. Mason Plumlee added 17 rebounds for the Blue Devils, who travel to Virginia Tech to take on Seth Greenberg's Hokies.
Moe Harkless was ridiculous. He hit many of the mid-range jumpers he's been missing. He drove into the paint against Plumlees who looked desperate to not end up on a poster. Harkless opened the game with two drive-and-dunks. He even canned a three.
Harkless, subject of some "he may test the waters" talk this week, certainly made scouts add St. John's games to their itineraries. Harkless was on point and consistent all game, despite picking up two fouls by the 17:21 mark. Harkless added 13 rebounds, and was an all-around problem for the Blue Devils, making them look slow and unaware on the court.
Amir Garrett wants it. In the beginning of the second half, Amir Garrett worked his way to the ball seemingly every possession - trying to jam back an offensive rebound, defending tough, looking for shots. His energy was infectious, and the effort by the non-Harkless members of the team in the second half spread.
Foul trouble will change a man. Sir`Dominic Pointer ended the first half with 3 fouls; Harkless and Harrison had two. Foul trouble changed the team's aggressiveness, their interior defense, their ability to attempt to bother Duke. For his part, Pointer had a game to forget, fouling out while leading a fast break.
The team could use a triggerman. Phil Greene took the third-most shots from the floor. He hit a few deep jumpers in the second half, and has some game. But he also had 0 assists. A few times in transition, the Red Storm could have used a guide to smooth out the attack; one wonders what a true passer could have done against an overplaying, sometimes defensively delinquent Duke squad and the Red Storm's elite athletes.
Free throw shooting didn't help. Yes, the 10 points St. John's left at the line could have won the game. Shooting 10-19 in the second half - even late - helped Duke maintain its lead. 100% shooting is probably not a reasonable expectation, but 52.6% shooting is also far below St. John's sometimes-errant standards. Harrison combined to go 2-3; the rest of the team went 9-18, with Harkless, Garrett, and God`sgift Achiuwa taking attempts.