Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski got his 1,000th win on Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden as his Blue Devils beat St. John’s 77-68.
Krzyzewski said the game felt like three in one, starting with Duke controlling the first ten minutes to open up a 21-10 lead. St. John’s then owned the next two minutes as they outscored Duke 51-30 to take a 61-51 lead. Duke owned the final ten minutes, outscoring St. John’s 26-7 to get the milestone win.
Coach K explained afterwards, “This was a heck of a game, I think that’s the very first thing. I thought for ten minutes we outplayed them, and then for 20 minutes they just killed us with their athleticism and (Rysheed) Jordan and (Sir’Dominic) Pointer especially, we didn’t have any answers for them no matter what we did. We started the ballgame trying to take away Harrison and Greene and we were okay with that, but those two guys (Jordan and Pointer) really came on. The last ten minutes, (Marshall) Plumlee and (Tyus) Jones just gave us so many plays, I mean Plumlee defensive rebounding and a one big offensive rebound to keep an exchange going…We played great in the last ten minutes and I’m not sure if I’ve ever been part of a game like that, that’s kind of nuts, huh. Fourteen hundred games, or whatever, thirteen hundred, whatever I have been involved in, and to have one that’s different, that’s what makes the game so good and to do it here, you know, just to win here, but to win the one-thousandth, somebody’s, you gotta be a lucky guy. This is a magical place and we beat a really good team and a storied program, a storied program that I’ve had respect for since I was a player at Army a long time ago, 48, 49 years ago. Their program has stood the test of time, and so has ours, so to win in this setting against a storied program makes it even better.”
The first half was not the most beautiful basketball on display, as there were a lot of turnovers and broken plays. From when it was 7-7 a few minutes in, Duke took a 21-10 lead on a Jahlil Okafor dunk with 12:26 left in the half. St. John’s responded with an 11-2 run capped by six straight points from Sir’Dominic Pointer to make it 23-21 Duke at the 10:57 mark.
From then on, it went back-and-forth, with Pointer, who had 13 points in the first half, and point guard Rysheed Jordan, providing most of the St. John’s offense. They also got a lot of breaks, as the referees let a lot of obvious foul calls go, and the fact that Duke shot 4-for-12 from behind the arc in the first half.
St. John’s led 40-39 with 39 seconds left in the first and they had the ball looking to expand the lead. They took their time and the ball was in D’Angelo Harrison’s hands as the shot clock neared zero. He put it up, hit a three and the clock ran out, so St. John’s took a 43-39 lead into halftime. A replay showed that Harrison still had the ball when the shot clock hit zero, which meant his three should have been nullified and Duke should have had the ball with three seconds left, giving them a chance at a three of their own. The referees could not review the apparent shot-clock violation. In essence, this was a six-point swing in St. John’s favor.
St. John’s led 45-43 in the early going of the second half, and went on an 8-0 run, with Pointer and Phil Greene IV getting four points each, to take a 53-43 lead with 14:05 left in the game. They maintained that ten-point lead all the way to the 8:35 mark when they took a 61-51 lead on a Pointer jumper.
By that point, Coach K changed up Duke’s defensive scheme from man-on-man to a 2-3 zone, and Marshall (younger brother of Mason) Plumlee was a key part of the turnaround. St. John’s had no idea what to do as they were trapped on the perimeter and went ice cold. Harrison said of Duke’s zone defense, “It’s not that we couldn’t figure it out, we were not making shots and they were on a run. That’s part of the game. We’ll get in the gym, work on it and get ready for the next game.”
They did not get a field goal for six full minutes, and in that time, Duke went on an 18-2 run. A Greene layup at the 2:35 mark broke the cold snap and that made it 69-65 Duke. Soon after, Tyus Jones hit a three to make ti 72-65 Duke with 1:15 remaining.
Duke was led byTyus Jones, who had 22 points on 5-for-11 from the field, 2-5 on threes, and a perfect 10-10 on free throws, with 6 assists and 4 rebounds. Jahlil Okafor had 17 points on 7-for-10 from the field and 10 rebounds, six on the offensive end. Quinn Cook also had 17 points on 5-for-13 shooting overall and 4-8 on threes, with 4 rebounds and 2 assists.
For St. John’s, this was more of the same, as they choked away a nice lead in the second half. They were outscored 38-25 in the second half and 26-7 in the final 8:35. They fall to 13-6 overall, and they still do not have a signature win. They jumped out to an 11-1 record which is now seen to be a mirage, a result of an easy non-conference schedule. Their only quality wins were against Minnesota and at Syracuse. They lost their toughest game of the early season to Gonzaga. In Big East Conference play, they are 2-4, with losses to Seton Hall and Villanova.
St. John’s Head Coach Steve Lavin said of the loss, “I thought it was an impressive basketball game. Even though there were stretches where both teams struggled to find their rhythm offensively, you had two teams that were competing at a very high level. In the end, Duke made the decisive final run.”
Lavin said of what he saw from his team, “When you play Duke, you know that they are going to have firepower. They are well coached, have talented personnel and a good approach. In the second half we missed some open shots that went in during the first half. We came up short today but it’s clear we can be a dangerous come March if we continue to make progress.”
Lavin said of the toughness of this loss, “Every loss is tough, but NCAA Tournament losses are always the hardest to deal with. We went up against a top five team today and came up short. We’ll learn from it but clearly we are a team moving in the right direction.”
Lavin has got to show a bit more urgency, as there is only six more weeks left until tournament time. This one was a perfect chance to get a resume-building win for March Madness. It is incredible that he thought this game showed “a team moving in the right direction” when this senior-laden team led by Harrison, Greene, and Pointer showed the same patterns they always have. They start out well, get a nice lead, and choke when crunch time hits. Of course, they always want credit for the parts of the game they played well in, like they don’t expect to be held to a higher standard of actually winning one of these big games.
On what he said to Coach K after the game, Lavin said, “Congratulations. He was gracious as always. They pulled away and closed in the most important time of the game. We have tremendous respect for Coach K. I congratulated him on the milestone.”