After the final buzzer sounded at Madison Square Garden Sunday, a swarm of media surrounded Coach Mike Krzyzewski for his 1000th victory of his career. However, on the other end of the spectrum, more questions started to fill the minds of St. John's and their fans as the team lined up for the end of game handshakes.
The Johnnies failed to finish off another close game at home. Steve Lavin said after the game that "this team continues to show improvement" and that they "lost to three number one seeds" but with a 2-4 Big East record and 5 losses in their past 7 games the thought of many is that the season is slipping away.
But despite all the negative reactions, deep down there still is some sense of optimism surrounding this team because one cannot discount the way they competed for 34 minutes.
When the Johnnies are able to get out in transition and use their speed to attack the opponent, they can be a very dangerous team. They have some of the quickest guards in the Big East and their ability to attack the basket is a major strength. Rysheed Jordan can create any shot he wants and Sir'Dominic Pointer was finishing at ease.
With the score 33-32 in the 1st half, St. John's already had 15 transition points, according to ESPN Stats and Information. Duke gives up an average of 14.5 transition points per game.
Even though there were missed layups and turnovers on multiple fast break opportunities, the Johnnies were able to counter those mistakes with solid transition defense on the other end of the floor.
They opened up a double digit lead in the 2nd half but ultimately, the game changed when Duke started converting shots in the paint. That helped as they were able to get back and set up their zone defense in order to limit the Red Storm's transition attack.
The match-up within the match-up: Jahlil Okafor vs. Chris Obekpa
This battle was on display all afternoon as the best player in the country went head to head against one of the best shot-blockers in the country. Chris Obekpa is not considered the strongest of big men but Sunday he played with a sense of physicality in the paint.
For most of the game, Obekpa had success denying Okafor and when the big man from Chicago did happen to receive the ball Obekpa played strong without getting into any foul trouble.
The final six minutes was when that defensive approach collapsed and Okafor escaped the match-up with a win. The potential number one overall pick in the NBA Draft next year converted an and-1 late in the game using his strength to put Duke in a perfect position to complete a comeback.
Domination on the glass
Duke's size and success on the glass, out-rebounding St. John's 44 to 29 overall, proved to be a turning point in a very compelling game.
Jahlil Okafor, who is not known to be a dominant rebounder, had 10 boards and he didn't seem to have one of his better games.
"The biggest difference was they were able to get on the glass, especially late," Steve Lavin said. "It was one of the keys for us. I didn't think we could out-rebound them but I thought we could be competitive."
The Johnnies were competitive with the Blue Devils at half, only trailing by 2 rebounds, but in the second half, eight offensive rebounds were the difference.