By Anthony Bosco
The St. John’s Red Storm did not need a win in Sunday’s game over the No. 3 ranked Duke Blue Devils, but it would have been nice. What the team got instead was the worst beating any St. John’s team received in recent memory, a 97-55 thrashing at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Not so nice.
Duke (25-2, 12-2) used a smothering defense and its explosive, multi-threat offense to roll off a 35-1 run over the final 13 minutes of the first half to take a 27-point lead into the locker rooms at halftime. The rest was academic.
“The only way you’re going to come in here and win is to bring your ‘A’ game,” said St. John’s head coach Mike Jarvis. “We certainly didn’t do that.”
For seven minutes, though, Red Storm fans were in heaven. The Johnnies opened the game as if they had something to prove, running, gunning, swishing and dishing and putting the Blue Devils on their heels, at least temporarily.
Marcus Hatten opened the game with a three-pointer on the Red Storm’s first possession. A basket by Andre Stanley and a three by Donald Emanuel made the score 8-4 with 17:40 remaining.
Freshman Eric King, who was slumping offensively heading into the game, scored six straight points for the Johnnies and Stanley scored a lay-up off a steal by Hatten to push the Red Storm’s lead to seven, 18-11.
A short jumper by Kyle Cuffe with 13:00 showing on the clock gave St. John’s (18-9, 8-6) its second seven-point lead, 20-13. But Cuffe’s basket was the last field goal of the half for the Red Storm, who simply stopped scoring under the suffocating Blue Devils’ defense.
Super junior Jason Williams started Duke’s run at 11:56 and the Blue Devils were off. Carlos Boozer tied the game with a basket at 10:10 and Daniel Ewing gave Duke its first lead of the game at 7:45 when he nailed a three-pointer to make the score 23-20.
Mike Dunleavey intercepted an errant Hatten pass and turned it into two easy points and, moments later, Williams scored on an alley-oop dunk to push the Duke lead to seven.
The pummeling continued over the next five minutes before Stanley hit one-of-two from the foul line to put a stop to the Blue Devils’ 26-0 run with 2:09 remaining in the first half, which ended when Williams hit a three-pointer to make the score 48-21.
Hatten, who came into the contest scoring more than 30 points in his last two games, was held to just a single field goal in the first half, which opened the scoring.
“Our whole game plan was keyed to stopping him,” said Duke skipper Mike Krzyzewski. “We respected him a great deal today.”
Try as they might to make a game of it in the second half, the Red Storm had no answers for the Blue Devils’ defense, as Duke continued to add to its lead while St. John’s faltered down the stretch.
King led St. John’s with 16 points, hitting 8-of-16 from the floor. Hatten, the only other Red Storm member in double figures, finished with 14 points on 4-of-14 shooting, adding six assists.
Williams led Duke with 26, followed by Boozer with 20 and Dahntay Jones with 19.
St. John’s needs to bounce back quickly to keep the team’s hopes of an NCAA Tournament bid alive with games against Notre Dame and Villanova to close out the Big East schedule this week.
“I’ve seen stranger things happen,” Jarvis said. “I’ve seen teams with less character and less ability than mine this year come back and do OK. One thing about these guys, if you know them, if you know their background, they will bounce back.”
St. John's 84, Notre Dame 81. Hatten scored 28, Anthony Glover had 20, King chipped in 12 and Willie Shaw scored 11 as the Red Storm picked up an important win Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden. But perhaps the biggest lift came from sophomore center Curtis Johnson. When the 7-foot-3 big man entered the game in the second half St. John's went on an 18-4 run that turned the game around. The Red Storm face the Villanova Wildcats in Philadelphia Sunday, March 3 at 2 p.m.
Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.