So, how long will the St. John’s players be allowed to celebrate Sunday’s 93-78 victory over No. 3 Duke — a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated?
“Coach Lav said we had two hours to celebrate and then we have to get ready for Rutgers,” senior forward Justin Burrell said, referring to first-year coach Steve Lavin and the Red Storm’s next opponent on Wednesday.
Two hours? It will take longer than that just to go over the highlight plays of a game that St. John’s had won by halftime. Those last 20 minutes were just a formality.
“I felt like we were ready. The guys wanted to play this game,” Duke guard Nolan Smith said. “We wanted to be here but they came out from the jump ball and kicked our butts.”
It wasn’t that St. John’s (12-8) beat the Blue Devils (19-2), it was the way it happened.
St. John’s was finishing a stretch of eight straight games against ranked teams. This win gave them three wins in that span. It was enough to have Lavin waving his arms to the crowd at a media timeout in the second half.
“You’re caught up in the moment of the game and I wanted St. John’s fans to come to the party in terms of supporting the players on the court,” Lavin said. “We had this arduous stretch of games and having lost five of six, at that moment it was just wanting to jumper cable the crowd and bring energy for our players because they deserved a pat on the back and some appreciation for the yeoman’s effort and the cohesive brand of basketball they had been playing against the defending national champion.”
The Red Storm, who had lost three straight and five of six, took control early and had a 46-25 lead at halftime. Duke, which came into the game shooting 40 percent from 3-point range, missed its first 10 shots from behind the arc and made one of 13 in the half.
The Blue Devils’ overall shooting wasn’t a whole lot better as they shot 29.6 percent (8 of 27) in the half — they entered the game shooting 48.1 percent from the field — and they were careless with the ball as well, committing 11 turnovers, one off their season average for a game.
St. John’s had a lot to do with how poorly Duke played, using a three-quarter court trap to force the Blue Devils into low percentage passes that almost all seemed to either be stolen by St. John’s or just thrown away.
“It’s not an Xs and Os thing today,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I felt we were not ready to compete, we had blank expressions on our faces and guys weren’t talking and that’s my responsibility. Our program didn’t do well today and that is all our responsibilities.”
There was plenty of praise to go around for the Red Storm, who gave the Big East a 6-1 record against teams ranked in the top 10 this season. They were 16 of 28 from the field (57.1 percent) in the first half, well above the 45.2 percent the Red Storm were shooting coming into the game.
Dwight Hardy had 26 points for St. John’s, while Justin Brownlee had 20 points, nine rebounds and six assists and Paris Horne added 15 points and six assists. St. John’s shot 58.2 percent for the game (32 of 55) and was 26 of 33 from the free throw line.
“I thought our team from the outset executed with precision on offense and brought great intensity to the defensive end of the floor,” Lavin said, “and we were able to maintain a high level of basketball for 40 minutes and that was the difference.”
Duke’s loss continued the weekend of misery for members of the Top 25. On Saturday, four teams in the top 10 and 11 ranked teams overall lost.
Smith led Duke with 32 points and Kyle Singler added 20. Duke finished 5 of 26 from 3-point range — they missed 21 of the first 22 attempts — and had 17 turnovers.
“To sum it up they got whatever they wanted and we just weren’t able to bounce back and match them,” Singler said.
The sellout crowd of 19,353 at Madison Square Garden — about 60 percent of whom were cheering for St. John’s — seemed to be waiting for a run by the Blue Devils, who had won four straight since its loss at Florida State, that would make their nightmare half go away.
St. John’s came out and scored the first two baskets of the second half — one on a dunk by D.J. Kennedy 10 seconds in, the other on a layup by Hardy off a nice pass from Dwayne Polee II — to take its biggest lead of the game, 50-25 1:04 into the second half.
St. John’s had doubled Duke and the Red Storm managed to score enough the rest of the way to keep the Blue Devils at bay. The closest Duke would get would be 11 points after they hit four straights 3-pointers to pull to 87-76.
“I was really excited,” said Burrell who had eight points and five rebounds. “I’m one of those guys who really enjoys college basketball and I was excited to be a part of this.”
The Red Storm started their run against ranked teams with a 61-58 victory over then-No. 13 Georgetown. After losses to Notre Dame and Syracuse, they beat then-No. 9 Notre Dame 72-54 in a rematch. Losses to Louisville, Cincinnati and Georgetown preceded the win over Duke. All three wins were at Madison Square Garden.
“This was an interesting stretch as a coach,” Lavin said. “I don’t think it had ever happened. The mathematical probabilities have got to be one in a zillion. “We’ve had to temper things with them and be mindful of that frustration. The concern was that our players realize this conference is really tough and you can lose five of six and not be playing bad basketball.”
Duke had been as comfortable at the Garden as St. John’s. The Blue Devils had won their last five and 12 of 13 there and were 25-14 all-time.
The game got chippy for a while in the second half and double technicals were called twice before things settled down.