Shamorie Ponds drives inside against Duke as part of 33-point masterpiece as St. John's upset fourth-ranked Blue Devils, 81-77, at Madison Square Garden. (Photo by Vincent Dusovic/St. John's University Athletics)
By Jason Schott (@JESchott19)
NEW YORK -- St. John's pulled off one of the biggest upsets in their program's recent history, as they beat the Duke Blue Devils, 81-77, Saturday afternoon at Madison Square Garden. The game was part of The Garf, a tournament named in honor of legendary New York basketball scion Howard Garfinkel.
The win broke an 11-game losing streak for St. John's (11-13), and this was their first win since they beat Saint Joseph's at Mohegan Sun on December 20. Eight of those losses were under seven points, so it was inevitable that St. John's was going to pull one out.
This is the kind of win that changes the calculus of a season. If St. John's can win a bulk of their seven remaining Big East games, go into the conference tournament with momentum and win a couple games there, if not the whole tournament, postseason play is not out of the realm of possibility.
“It’s big to just get a win on the board," said Shamorie Ponds, who led all scorers with 33 points, 24 of which came in the second half. "We can start fresh. We had a tough three-game stretch and it was great to get our confidence at an all-time high.”
Duke, the fourth-ranked team in the nation, dropped to 19-4 overall.
"I thought they made us look bad, but we made ourselves look bad," head coach Mike Krzyzewski bluntly assessed. "We did not play basketball the first 32 minutes worthy of our program and we had blank faces. We didn’t talk. We were like five individuals out there, and it was disgusting really, and no matter what we said nothing worked with our team, until the last eight minutes, then we had a chance to win."
"We came in prepared, you don’t look at records, you look at who you’re playing, and we looked at them and said, ‘hey they’re good, they’re good,’ and we had to defend them that way and we didn’t.”
Duke started this game in control, and could have put it away early if they wanted to. Instead, they were on cruise control and built up a 10-point edge, 37-27, with 2:49 left in the first half, and took a 39-32 edge into halftime. In the second half, St. John's opened with a 10-2 run capped by a Ponds three-pointer to take their first lead, at 42-41, at the 17:01 mark. That lead ballooned to 52-45 on a Bashir Ahmed three with 14:12 to play.
A Ponds three-point play expanded the St. John's lead, which became as large as 11 points, when Tariq Owens made it 68-57 with 6:38 remaining, but Duke responded, as Trevon Duval connected on a three and a layup to start a 7-0 run, bringing the Blue Devils within four. After Ponds made a jumper, Duval made a layup to keep it a four-point game, at 70-66, with 4:01 to go.
St. John's would go back up by six with under three minutes left, but Duke battled back again, as a Duval layup and five straight points by Gary Trent, Jr. gave Duke a 73-72 edge with 1:35 remaining in regulation. Out of a timeout, Ponds made a quick layup to retake the lead for St. John's 16 seconds later. Duke wasted no time to get off a shot on their ensuing possession, and Duval got to the line. Duval, a 60 percent free throw shooter, missed both.
A big key in this one for St. John's was their offensive rebounding, as they had 16, and the most important one came off a Tariq Owens missed layup, and it eventually got to Ponds, who buried a three in the corner to make it 77-73 St. John's with just 40 seconds left.
“The shot clock was winding down and Coach wanted me to curl up for a screen to try to take the shot," Ponds said of his clutch trey. "I was confident to take it and it went in.”
“It was probably the biggest play of the game, no question," said Chris Mullin. "It’s one of the plays that we run from baseline out of bounds. Much like breaking the press, we want the ball in his hands. Sometimes he doesn’t get it if they double him, but I thought we ran that to perfection. We set some good screens, Shamorie worked his way for the shot, and it was the biggest shot of the day, no question."
After that, Duke raced to the other end, and just four seconds later, Grayson Allen drained a three to bring them within a point, at 77-76. Owens was fouled on the ensuing inbounds, and he made both free throws to make it a three-point game, 79-76, with 32 seconds left. Allen then missed a three, and Marvin Bagley III was fouled after he snared the offensive rebound while Owens reached over his back.
Bagley, just a 62 percent free throw shooter, missed one of two, so it was 79-77 Red Storm with 20 seconds left.
Ponds was fouled on the inbounds, and made just one of two free throws, keeping it a one-possession game at 80-77 with 17 seconds left. Duke responded with one of the sloppiest possessions ever, as they couldn't get set on the perimeter, and it wound up that Allen took a wild shot from behind the arc that barely got the rim with just eight seconds left. Owens got the rebound and dribbled the clock down to two seconds when he was fouled. He drained one of two free throws to seal the win.
We just stayed composed," Ponds said of the win. "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. We are happy but we can’t stop here, we have to keep pushing."
"There’s never a point in any game when guys think this is where it’s about to go wrong," said Owens. "We lose games because we make mental mistakes and it’s on us. It’s the things we do each game. This game, we locked in and knocked down the free throws, and got the loose balls and rebounds we needed to. All those things hurt us before, and we learned from our experiences. We can’t let the same things beat us twice."
“I think we had better shot selection for the most part," Mullin proudly reflected. "We still made mistakes. We were up four and still left a shooter open in transition. We got back and made something positive happen. It feels much better to come out on top, but it really wasn’t that different to me. I’ve been telling you guys, you think I’m crazy, but we’ve been right there in all of these games. I think it’s just good for our guys to get that feeling. There’s nothing like a win to make you feel better. Thank God January is over.”