by Josh Adams
New York– Midway through the second half of St. John’s 81-77 upset of Duke, a fan yelled, “Anything can happen in the Garden!”, in the vicinity of the press box. On a Saturday afternoon in front of 19, 812 fans at Madison Square Garden the almost impossible happened. The St. John’s Red Storm, losers in their past eleven contests, beat the #4 ranked Blue Devils in front of a delirious crowd that was 50/50 Johnnies and Duke fans. The hometown New York City kid, Shamorie Ponds, had 33 points to pace the Red Storm to it’s biggest win in years as St. John’s breaks their losing streak.
It’s normally an event when Duke makes their annual trip from Durham up to New York City and Saturday’s game seemed like no different from the start. Fans of all ages were decked out in Duke gear piling off commuter trains and into the venerable old arena as the Blue Devils looked to put on a show for their northeast fans. The Red Storm were in the middle of a brutal three game stretch that saw them lose to #6 Xavier on Thursday, play #4 Duke today and then travel to #1 Villanova on Wednesday. In the midst of going winless in Big East Conference play, today’s game seemed to be unfortunately scheduled for the Red Storm as the Blue Devils pulled up to the Garden fresh off a win against Notre Dame.
St. John’s quickly established that the game wasn’t going to be a cakewalk for the Blue Devils as the Red Storm hung with them for the bulk of the first half. Duke established a lead early behind freshman Wooden candidate Marvin Bagley III in the interior and with Gary Trent Jr. hitting four of his first five three pointers. The Red Storm countered with Tariq Owens and Ponds running an effective pick and roll game that the Blue Devils defense found hard to defend. At the end of the first half the Duke lead was 39-32.
After the halftime festivities, St. John’s went on a 7-0 run to start the second half. Ponds was going through the Duke defense like the Kool-Aid man going through a brick wall. He had plenty of help from Owens and Bashir Ahmed who had 13 points in the second half as the Johnnines extended their lead to 11 points on an Owens layup with 6:36 left in the game. The fans started to really believe that the team could pull the upset off and the roof felt like it was going fly off the Garden. At this point though, the Duke team that has five star All-Americans, the one coached by Mike Krzyzewski, started to mount a comeback. The Blue Devils furiously erased the Red Storm lead and took one of their own after a Trent free throw with 1:34 left in the game.
At this point, Ponds became a St. John’s and New York City legend. They’ll be few games in St. John’s history that will have a better performance that what Ponds gave his team and the fans today. He hit a layup to give the Red Storm the lead back and then iced the game with a three pointer in Duke’s Trevon Duval’s eye. It was an improbable win for St. John’s and the home crowd let off a cheer at the horn that hasn’t been heard at Madison Square Garden during a St. John’s game in a very long time.
Ponds was pretty cool about becoming an university icon. As a sophomore, he scored his 1,000th point against Xaiver on Thursday and now became a household name before a nationally televised game on FOX. “This is a big win to get us on the board.”, said Ponds, “We had a tough three game stretch and it was great to get our confidence at an all-time high.”
Krzyzewski was not happy about his team’s performance and basically called them no-shows for the first 32 minutes of the game. “We were like 5 individuals out there and it was disgusting really.”, said Coach K, “I don’t know why. I can tell you that’s not the group I coached all year. They were a very frustrating group to coach today. They didn’t respond to anything until the last 8 minutes and that’s unacceptable.” The Blue Devils were led by Trent Jr with 22 points. Bagley III had 19 points for Duke (19-4) who travels to their eternal rival, UNC, on Thursday. Judging by Coach K’s mood, this will not be an easy week of practice for his team.
As Ponds stated, it gets no easier for St. John’s (11-13) as they travel to play #1 Villanova on Wednesday. We’ll see what happens then. Today the fans, the team and St. John’s Coach Chris Mullin got a much deserved win. The Red Storm hustled to every loose ball, played great defense and made shots. The game tightened at the end and they didn’t panic which was a true sign of growth for a team that had trouble doing just that against Georgetown and Xavier earlier this season.
An eleven game losing streak can bring a lot of doom and gloom to a team and their fans but you could feel that lifted with today’s win. A season on the brink is no longer for the St. John’s Red Storm.