The visiting Duke Blue Devils brought the best out of this year’s shorthanded St. John’s Red Storm, stepping out of ACC play to take an 81-77 road loss to Chris Mullin’s Johnnies.
All season, St. John’s have danced on the cusp against nearly all opponents, falling short over and over again against league opponents. Today, a focused and intense St. John’s squad put it together, fought until the end and gave Duke more than they could handle in a thriller that required late poise and a star turn from Shamorie Ponds (33 points, seven total rebounds, four steals, four assists).
Early on, St. John’s took advantage of some indifferent defending in the paint to get Tariq Owens going. Duke, on the other hand, looked comfortable on offense, with Gary Trent, Jr. shooting three straight threes in the opening minutes of the game.
The first half proceeded as one might expect for a talented team showing their best against one of the best teams in the country — St. John’s was good, but at arms’ length, despite playing cohesive basketball, running plays, and holding together defensively. The Johnnies forced 12 steals, had six more shots, got eight points from Tariq Owens all at the rim, but were still down 39-32 at the half.
In the second half, Justin Simon and Shamorie Ponds started the scoring, but quickly, the Red Storm stepped up the effort to ten.
They leaped for loose balls. Shamorie Ponds went off, driving through Duke defenders for layups.
And the Johnnies made the Garden rock.
A Shamorie Ponds three-pointer with under 17 minutes left gave the Red Storm the lead. Behind Ponds and Bashir Ahmed, St. John’s led by as many as 11 points with seven minutes to go.
But Duke freshman Trevon Duval, who had scored two points up to that point, took over. The speedy top-15 freshman found himself isolated in the corner with Ahmed defending him; he chose to dribble a few times and take a three. Which he hit.
Duval led the Blue Devils, being a pest on defense, helping to shepherd Ponds into bad spaces, and adding three layups and an assist for Wendell Carter. The Red Storm’s offense was a bit sloppier, and Duke caught up on Gary Trent’s free throws.
Coming out of a timeout, Shamorie Ponds hit a layup on the left side to give the Red Storm the lead. With just over 40 seconds left, and after taking the last team time out, St. John’s inbounded the ball to Ponds, covered by Duval. Ponds rose up and drilled a three pointer.
On the other end, Grayson Allen got free in transition and hit a three-pointer. And it was time for the Johnnies to execute at the end of the game.
Owens went to the line, made two free throws. St. John’s defended a three-point attempt... but fouled Marvin Bagley III.
He made 1 of 2.
Ponds was sent to the line. He made one of two.
The Johnnies defended the Devils and forced another miss, got the ball, and Owens went to the line. He made one of two, Trevon Duval attempted a desperation three... and St. John’s...
Breaking an 11 game losing streak.
Bringing a bit of hope to what has turned into a sour season. Bringing a marquee win over an ACC team. Will this catapult the team, now that they can defeat the Duke Blue Devils?
St. John’s was led by Ponds’ 33 points (24 in the second half), and got 19 from Bashir Ahmed (13 in the second half on 4/6 shooting), 17 from Tariq Owens, who was special for most of the afternoon. Justin Simon had seven assists to go with his five points.
Gary Trent Jr. led Duke with 22, Marvin Bagley III added 19 points, and Wendell Carter, Jr. had 14.
Next for St. John’s is a trip to Villanova, and the return to Big East play.