St. John’s not only ended an 11-game losing streak but made a big statement with a massive upset of No. 4 Duke at Madison Square Garden on Saturday.
All season long, St. John’s has been hanging in there against some of the top teams in the country, but they haven’t been able to close games. Well, Saturday was their day at Madison Square Garden as they beat a top-five Duke team for the second time since 2011 by a final score of 81-77.
For a team that has gone through a lot of adversity this season, this win for a day can help ease some of the frustration that the 2017-18 season has been for the Red Storm and their fans. Of course, the conversation starts and ends with their leader, Shamorie Ponds, who sees this victory as the start of a new season.
“We are happy, but we can’t stop here. We have to keep pushing,” he said after the game, per the Associated Press (via ESPN). “This is big to get a win on the board. We can start fresh.”
As we talked about on Friday, Ponds is at his best when the lights shine the brightest. He had 33 points, seven rebounds, and three assists in the upset win. In three games against Top 10 opponents this season, the sophomore guard has dropped 30-plus points every time.
When St. John’s needs Ponds to make a big play, he finds a way to deliver. He helped the Red Storm erase a seven-point halftime deficit on Saturday, scoring 24 of his 33 points in the second half, including three of his four three-pointers.
While St. John’s is a team that likes to take perimeter jump shots, they have the athletes in Ponds and Justin Simon to attack the basket and get quick baskets.
The Red Storm shot 50 percent from the floor in the first half and used Tariq Owens effectively down low against Duke’s talented frontcourt. Owens scored 10 of his 17 points in the first half. As Ponds told ESPN’s Jeff Borzello, it was all part of the Johnnies’ plan.
Shamorie Ponds: "That was the game plan. Get [their] bigs involved in pick-and-rolls."
St. John's attempted 32 layups/dunks, consistently attacked Duke off the dribble.
— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) February 3, 2018
If an underdog is going to have a real chance of beating a top-five opponent, they have to be able to force turnovers at a high rate. St. John’s did just that, forcing 18 turnovers—including eight steals (four from Ponds). Four different Duke players had three or more turnovers, including six from star forward Marvin Bagley III.
Since Marcus LoVett got injured in December, St. John’s has been looking for a consistent second scoring option to Ponds. Bashir Ahmed filled that role on Saturday. Ahmed was efficient as he scored 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting, drained three trifectas, stayed out of foul trouble, and only had a pair of turnovers.
One of the major problems St. John’s has had this year has been their rebounding. While Duke did win the rebound battle 36-33 thanks to 15 from Wendell Carter Jr., it was the Red Storm’s balance on the glass that helped them stay competitive. All five starters were able to pull down at least four boards. Ponds led the way with seven.
Facing an 11-point lead with 7:57 to go, Duke got back in the game thanks to a 9-2 run led by Carter Jr. and Trevon Duvall. But, the Red Storm bucked the trend of not being able to finish, with Ponds and Ahmed scoring 13 of the final 15 points for St. John’s.
Now, one win doesn’t change the grand scheme of a season. However, this big win over Duke allows St. John’s to take a deep breath now that the 11-game losing streak is no longer hanging over their head.
While they are still looking for that elusive first Big East win, the Red Storm can go into the last month of the season with confidence they can beat any team in the country.