The Red Storm have proven before that they can make up for a bad half and still pull out a victory. But in the St. John’s (15-14, 6-9 Big East) game against No. 18/17 Duke, the bad half was so bad that the Johnnies just could not recover.
In front of 17,283 at Madison Square Garden, St. John’s lost 67-50 against the Blue Devils (21-7, 8-6 ACC). It is a credit to the Johnnies that the final score looks so close.
After the first half, they were down 34-10.
St. John’s actually outscored Duke by seven in the second half but, at that point, the damage was already too great.
“We got ourselves down too much in the first half,” said coach Norm Roberts. “We can’t get ourselves down like that.”
It was an uphill battle from the start as Duke opened the game with 12 unanswered points. It took the Johnnies more than five minutes to score their first points: a jumper from Anthony Mason, Jr. at 14:53.
Things only got worse from there as Duke upped their lead to 20 points by 5:35 at 28-8 with the help of a three-pointer from Greg Paulus, who led the game with 19 points. Duke was up by as much as 26 at the 2:44 mark of the first half.
In the last few minutes, it became a question of whether St. John’s would even be able to reach double digits on the scoreboard before halftime. With two separate foul shots by Eugene Lawrence, they did manage to hit 10 at 1:29. The points elicited a sarcastic cheer from the St. John’s faithful.
“I wasn’t paying attention to that,” Lawrence said.
In the brutal first half, St. John’s racked up more turnovers than points (11-10) and was only 3-for-22 (13.2 percent) from the field.
“It was us overplaying or gambling when we didn’t need to,” Roberts said.
He added: “The ball just didn’t go in and we didn’t finish plays.”
A second-half opening three-pointer by Lamont Hamilton signaled better times to come. Slowly, St. John’s was able to cut away at the Duke lead.
“They had more of an edge in the second half,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. “They played better in the second half.”
Starting with a layup from Tomas Jasiulionis at 12:26 all the way up to some accurate free throws shots by Mason at 4:15, St. John’s was on a 17-5 run. The lead was cut to as little as 12 and the crowd was back into it. It was, however, the closest St. John’s would get.
At 2:12, Duke picked up an extra two points on a technical foul because of debris thrown onto the playing field by the fans.
There had already been a warning issued earlier and upon the second violation, the Johnnies paid for it.
St. John’s played physical and tough for the remainder of the game but the difference in scores was too great to overcome.
“When we adapted,” said Hamilton, “it was way too late.”