St. John’s snapped its 11-game losing streak with an 81-77 win over number 4 Duke on Saturday at MSG.
“Thank God January is over,” Chris Mullin said.
The Red Storm have lost close game after close game, and it looked like Groundhog Day when Duke erased an 11-point deficit in the final minutes to take a 73-72 lead. But this time, St. John’s didn’t fold. “There’s never a point in any game when guys think this is where it’s abouit to go wrong,” said Tariq Owens, who scored 17 points and stayed out of foul trouble. “We lose games because we make mental mistakes and it’s on us. It’s the things we do each game.”
Shamorie Ponds scored 24 of his 33 points in the second half, including the go-ahead layup and a three-pointer to beat the shot clock in crunch time. “We just stayed composed,” Ponds said. “We never broke or folded. We just stuck with our game plan and went into every game knowing we could win. The mindset was the same, we just tried to go out there and break the ice and today we did.”
Duke took a 39-32 lead into halftime but the Red Storm dominated the first 12 minutes of the second half to go up by 11. “We did not play basketball the first 32 minutes worthy of our program and we had blank faces,” Mike Krzyzewski said. “We didn’t talk. We were like five individuals out there, and it was disgusting really.”
Ponds (33), Bashir Ahmed (19) and Owens (17) combined for 69 of the Red Storm’s 81 points. Justin Simon distributed a game-high seven assists. The team made 13 of 18 free throws, and connected on eight three-pointers.
St. John’s has given Duke problems over the years. The 2000 Red Storm team is still the last non-conference team that beat Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The 2011 team upset number 3 Duke at MSG. And in 2015, St. John’s led by 10 with eight minutes remaining against a Duke team that would win the national championship before the Blue Devils came back in what was Krzyzewski’s 1,000th win as a coach.
“The Garden was rocking, no question,” Mullin said. “Duke has that brand, they bring them in. Of course, Coach K is class. He’s a legendary coach. I was glad our guys stepped up to the challenge of not only a great team, but on the biggest stage. It’s nice to do that.”
The win this might be most similar to was a 2003 upset of Duke when Marcus Hatten made a free-throw with no time on the clock to give St . Johns a 72-71 win over sixth-ranked Duke. The Red Storm had lost seven of nine and were at .500 with the season slipping away. But the win was the start of an 9-1 finish which saw St. John’s win the NIT.
The Red Storm are now 11-13 with top-ranked Villanova on deck. There are seven regular season games remaining before the Big East Tournament. But a run to the NIT doesn’t seem as unlikely as it did just a few days ago.