DURHAM, N.C. — As St. John’s began its battle against No. 2 Duke on Saturday, the chip on the Red Storm’s shoulder was evident.
When Blue Devils guard Cam Reddish had a clear lane to the basket, Marvin Clark II put a hard foul on him to exact a price. When Duke star Zion Williamson tried to free himself up on an inbounds play, he found Mustapha Heron’s forearm in his chest.
It takes a lot more than a chip on the shoulder, however, to stop a Duke team that might be the most talented in the country. The Blue Devils never stop coming at you, as the Red Storm discovered in Duke’s 91-61 non-conference victory before 9,314 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
When a St. John’s player made a bad pass, it usually ended up as a dunk on the other end. A long rebound? Another fast-break bucket. A sliver of space under the glass? An offensive rebound and another Duke tally.
St. John’s was competitive for the first 17 minutes as Clark scored all 12 of his points, but the end was quick and brutal as a tidal wave.
Williamson scored 10 of his 29 points as Duke rode Storm miscues to a 12-4 run for a 47-37 halftime lead. Then the Blue Devils scored 16 straight points early in the second half to make it a rout.
“We were fortunate to be down 10 at the half. The game really turned on those turnovers,” Red Storm coach Chris Mullin said. “They sped up the game pretty well . . . [Turnovers] turned the game, turned the whole atmosphere.”
When the Red Storm upset Duke at Madison Square Garden last season, Shamorie Ponds had 33 points, but the Blue Devils bottled him up this time. With Tre Jones in front of him and double-team help when he drove, Ponds didn’t score until he hit two free throws in the first minute of the second half. He finished with 11 points but had five turnovers, all in the first half.
“I knew that was a big matchup for our team, their point guard, and I knew that he’s a big key to their team,” Jones said. “So for myself, I knew I had to come out stronger than him and set the tone early for our entire team.”
“He’s a great defender, but it definitely wasn’t just him. It was the team,” Ponds said. “They had a great game plan. Every time I turned, there was another body.”
Things started to go downhill after Clark’s hard foul, a flagrant 1 with 11:39 left in the half. It sent him to the bench and sparked Duke. As Williamson explained, “I said, ‘All right, it’s going to be that kind of game.’ ”
Mullin gambled by putting Clark back in, but he lasted one minute before a bad reach-in foul 5:48 before the break. Soon after, Williamson led the 12-4 run before halftime.
Mullin said Clark “has to stay in the game” and Clark added, “I feel like when I get in foul trouble, things go the other way . . . I have to be smart and keep myself in the game.”
Jones ignited the 12-4 run with a steal and fast-break pull-up jumper with 3:02 on the clock. Williamson scored to finish a fast break, got a rebound of a missed free throw and a putback, and drove for a reverse layup before picking off Ponds’ pass and soaring for a monster dunk and the 10-point lead. Cameron was rocking.
“It wasn’t a 10-point game, but it was, because of that explosion,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We played defense. We scored a few buckets on our denial. In the first half, we got a couple, and [the Williamson dunk] was a big one.”
Williamson and RJ Barrett each had four points in the 16-0 burst that included three Storm giveaways. Heron said it “broke our spirit a little bit.”
LJ Figueroa had 14 points to lead the Red Storm. Williamson’s 13-for-17 shooting headed a 55.6-percent shooting day for Duke, and he added six rebounds and five steals. Reddish had 16 points and Barrett had 15 points and 14 rebounds for the Blue Devils.
If St. John’s had takeaways from this one, they were these: Heron said “we’re not going to play anywhere tougher than here” and Clark added: “It’s time to get ready for [No. 10] Marquette [on Tuesday]. That’s another top 10 team.”