Tough Break from Conference Play

St. John’s will face Duke for the first time since 2015 on Saturday

Photo Courtesy/Athletic Communications

Derrell Bouknight, Sports Editor

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As February nears and an 0-11 start to conference play the current reality St. John’s faces, the St. John’s men’s basketball team will get a break from Big East competition this coming Saturday.

The Red Storm has not won a game since their 77-73 victory over St. Joseph’s five days before Christmas.

Games against nationally ranked Villanova, Seton Hall, Creighton and Xavier were all decided by seven points or less, the closest being five-point losses to the Pirates on New Year’s Eve and to No. 6 Xavier Tuesday night.

St. John’s has started conference play winless in its first 11 games for the second time in Chris Mullin’s three years as head coach.

This Saturday, the Red Storm will face off against No. 4 Duke. It’s the first game of a home-and- home announced between the two teams last year.

Nearly 20,000 fans packed into Madison Square Garden on Jan. 25, 2015 to watch the Blue Devils defeat St. John’s 77-68. Duke was No. 5 in the country at the time.

Tyus Jones led the Blue Devils with 22 points, and Sir’Dominic Pointer paced St. John’s with 21 points and 10 rebounds.

The last time the Johnnies defeated Duke was Jan. 30, 2011.

Despite 32 points from point guard Nolan Smith and 20 from sharp-shooter Kyle Singler, St. John’s held the Blue Devils to just 41 percent shooting from the field and 19 percent from behind the arc. Dwight Hardy was one of five Red Storm players in double figures, leading the team with 26 points.

Justin Brownlee recorded 20 points, nine rebounds and six assists. Paris Horne, D.J. Kennedy and Sean Evans combined for 35 points.

As a team, St. John’s shot over 58 percent from the field and forced 17 Duke turnovers.

Prior to the 2015 matchup, Duke had won 13 of their previous 14 at the Garden. They lead the all-time series against St. John’s 16-6.

Saturday’s game will be the 23rd matchup between the two historic teams.

Duke is fourth all-time in wins with 2,115. Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski has 12 ACC regular season titles, 14 ACC Tournament championships and five NCAA Championships wins at Duke since taking over the program in 1980.

His 1,000th career victory came in the 2015 win over the Johnnies.

St. John’s ranks ninth in college basketball history with 1,817 wins since playing their first game in 1908.

This will be Head Coach Chris Mullin’s first time facing off against the Blue Devils in his illustrious career. He never played against the team as a four-year star at St. John’s, nor has he coached against them since taking the reigns as head coach prior to the 2015-2016 campaign.

St. John’s enters Saturday’s game without star point guard Marcus LoVett, who is out for the remainder of the season with a knee injury. As of Monday, tickets for the game were sold out.

The Red Storm’s biggest margin of victory against Duke was a 44-28 win on Feb. 4, 1938. The only overtime matchup was a 92-88 Blue Devils victory in 1999.

Sophomore guard Shamorie Ponds leads St. John’s with 19.1 points per game. Justin Simon, Bashir Ahmed and Marvin Clark II each average over 11 points per contest.

Duke’s starting five accounts for 76.8 points per contest, led by freshman forward Marvin Bagley’s 21.5 points and 11.4 rebounds. Senior guard Grayson Allen adds just under 15 points per game.

Despite the season not going according to plan for St. John’s, an upset win over one of the nation’s top teams could serve as a catalyst moving forward, especially when the Big East Tournament rolls around.

With a month remaining in the regular season after Saturday’s matchup, momentum could be on the Red Storm’s side.

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