Monday, January 31, 2011

St. John's Red Storm Bedevil #3 Duke at Madison Square Garden

Facing their eighth consecutive ranked opponent in a four-week span, the St. John’s Red Storm men’s basketball team (12-8) dug deep to pull out their finest showing of the season.

In front of a sellout crowd of 19,353 at Madison Square Garden Sunday afternoon, the resurgence of the St. John’s basketball program continued with a stunning 93-78 upset of the No. 3 Duke Blue Devils (19-2).

Buoyed by a stifling defense that limited the Blue Devils to 29.6 percent shooting (8-of-27) and forced the ACC powerhouse into committing 11 turnovers, the Red Storm took early control of the game as they proceeded to jump out to a 46-25 lead after the first 20 minutes of action.

St. John’s shot a blistering 57.1 percent (16-of-28) from the field in the first half and buried 60 percent (3-of-5) of their three-point shots—exactly the type of start the Red Storm needed to score their third upset of a ranked opponent this year.

The Blue Devils played more to character in the second half, shooting 51.4 percent from the floor and scoring more than twice as many points as they did in the first.

But St. John’s was equal to the task as they shot an even better percentage from the field (59.3 percent) and nailed clutch free throws to consistently keep Duke at bay.

"I thought our team from the outset executed with precision on offense and brought great intensity to the defensive end of the floor," Red Storm first-year head coach Steve Lavin said.

"We were able to maintain a high level of basketball for 40 minutes and that was the difference."

Senior guard Dwight Hardy led five Red Storm players in double figures with 26 points, including senior forward Justin Brownlee, who posted 20 points, nine rebounds and six assists.

Nolan Smith’s 32 points and Kyle Singler’s 20 points paced the Blue Devil contingent, who had no other player score more than seven points in the game.

"It's not an Xs and Os thing today," Duke head 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."

The loss snapped Duke’s string of 20 consecutive victories over non-conference opponents.

With 11 games left in the regular season, including nine games in the Big East and three against ranked opponents, the Red Storm have a long and difficult road ahead if qualifying for their first NCAA Tournament since 2002 is to come to fruition.

However, quality victories over No. 15 Notre Dame, No. 21 Georgetown and most importantly, No. 3 Duke, along with owning the No. 2 strength of schedule in the country, will hold tremendous weight with the Selection Committee if St. John’s ends the season on the bubble.

Nevertheless, as one of the top five recruiting classes prepares to make its way to Queens, it’s safe to say that St. John’s basketball is back with a flourish.

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