St. John’s Upsets No. 4 Duke at the Garden, Snaps Losing Streak

Shamorie Ponds scored 33 points and led St. John’s to an upset over the Blue Devils.

Derrell Bouknight, Sports Editor

Back in August, Shamorie Ponds sent out a tweet-or maybe a business memo-regarding the third day in February.

He talked about the first of a 2018/2019 home-and-home matchup against Duke, which was confirmed during the offseason. He gave the location, Madison Square Garden. The time was noon, his team set to face the No. 4 Blue Devils in front of a sold-out crowd.

His final words, a hashtag, were to “shock the city.”

As 19,000 spectators held their collective breath with 40 seconds to go, the southpaw from Brooklyn did just that. He rose into the air, ignored Gary Trent Jr.’s outstretched hand, an buried a triple just in front of his coaching staff.

“I was confident in taking that shot, and it went in,” he said postgame.

The bucket put St. John’s up 77-73, and Duke never led again.

Ponds scored 33 points to lead all scorers. Senior Bashir Ahmed followed with 19 and Tariq Owens 17 in an 81-77 upset win over Duke. The victory snapped an 11-game losing streak for the Red Storm, who came into Saturday’s game having lost all of their conference games before a brief interruption to play the Blue Devils.

It was St. John’s first time playing Duke since 2015, the first win against the program since a 93-78 victory at the Garden back in 2011.

Torch Photo/Nick Bello

The pace of the game was intense from the start. Trent continued his streak of hot shooting from the outside, nailing three three-pointers to give Duke (19-4) a 12-9 lead less than four minutes into the game.

Despite losing Marvin Clark II to two early fouls, St. John’s hung with the Blue Devils and never trailed by more than eight in the opening half. Owens led the way at halftime with 10 and was praised for his defense on forward Marvin Bagley III, who finished the game with 19 points and seven rebounds.

Two crucial shots from Ahmed and Ponds brought St. John’s (11-13) within seven at the half, 39-32.

The final 20 minutes of action were highlighted by St. John’s aggression on offense and attention to detail on the defensive side. Ponds scored seven of his 24 second half points in the opening minutes, including a long triple that gave St. John’s its first lead of the game, a 42-41 edge that forced Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski to call a timeout.

Minutes later, Ahmed converted on a three-point play to extend the lead to seven. Bagley, projected to be a top pick in this year’s NBA Draft, picked up his fourth foul with 12:24 remaining and was forced to sit on the bench. From there, the Red Storm took advantage of his absence.

“We just had to come out and make a statement and set the tone, which we did,” Owens said of the second half. “As a team, we came in and hit them in the mouth and knocked them off balance.”

With 8:36 to play, a three-point play from Ponds gave St. John’s an 11-point lead, their largest of the game. With Bagley out, Duke turned to their backcourt.

Freshman guard Trevon Duval scored eight points in four minutes to cut the lead to 72-68 with 2:45 to go. A three from Trent cut the deficit to one before he connected on two free throws to reclaim the lead for Duke.

After Ponds’ shot sent the Garden into a frenzy, Duke senior Grayson Allen responded with his own three to bring the lead to within a point with 33.4 seconds left. Owens hit two foul shots to increase the lead to 79-76 before Bagley missed the one of two from the line.

Two more makes put the Red Storm up 81-77 with two seconds left, and in the most-anticipated game of the season for St. John’s fans, those who donned red and white let out a harmonious cheer as the buzzer sounded.

After the game, Red Storm Head Coach Chris Mullin talked about his team’s win and was grateful for finally getting a victory.

“To turn it around against one of the most storied teams in college basketball-it’s great,” he said. “Probably more importantly for our players to get that taste back in their mouth…They needed it more than anything.”

Krzyzewski spoke highly of St. John’s while criticizing his team’s performance. He said the guard is as good of a guard on the offensive end as they have faced this year, and that he caused many problems for Duke.

“Ponds was terrific, but also, they played with an enthusiasm and a togetherness that I’m sure they liked,” he said after the game. “It was tough for us to defend them. I thought they made us look bad, but we made ourselves look bad.”

While Ponds said his team avoided the mental mistakes that plagued them in close games and Owens talked about the team never doubting itself, it was Mullin who summed it up best.

After a winless start to the year and questions surrounding a team that had so much preseason promise, he seemed relaxed, almost breaking a smile when talking about how excited he was for his guys.

“It’s just good for those guys to get that feeling,” Mullin said. “Nothing like a win to just make you feel better and to understand how close you are and what you need to do to win.”

With a deep breath and a sigh of relief emulating that of the Red Storm faithful in the crowd, Mullin echoed the thoughts of many that surrounded the team for what seemed like an eternity.

“Thank God January is over.”