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Duke Survives Stubborn Johnnies, 58-47

| N-R | NYPost |
H-S | Boxscore
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| N-R | NYPost | NYT

(DBR Thanks Bryan "Starter" of Sportsangle for this game review!)
Although Lee Melchionni has definitely turned into a pretty significant contributor on this year's version of the Blue Devils, it was still surreal to look at the stats at halftime of today's game with St. John's and see the big three of Daniel Ewing, J.J. Redick, and Shelden Williams combining to shoot 0-for-12 -- while Melchionni hit for 14 points. It's fair to say that without him, Duke's 28-17 halftime lead might have actually been reversed. Duke shot only 31 percent for the game and turned it over 23 times. Of course, they also found a way to win on a day that none of their main pistons were firing on all cylinders.

Mike Krzyzewski has reinvented entire teams before -- 2001's Casey Sanders/Reggie Love two-headed center comes to mind -- and he now has to figure something out to make up for the loss of Sean Dockery. It's obvious that losing Dockery hurts this team more than this season's previous three injuries. Dockery is really the only true point guard that Duke has. Statistically, he doesn't knock your socks off, but in 24 games (19 starts), he's contributed about 27 minutes a game. He's by far Duke's best player at breaking the press, he's likely the team's best on-ball defender, and he's second to Ewing by a slim margin in steals. The energy and steady hand that he brings will be sorely missed, and if Duke is in position to make a March run, one has to hope that Ewing's prediction of having Dockery by the second round is accurate. (It did seem like a fairly arbitrary estimate. Ewing is no doctor, and why the second and not the first? They're separated by two days.)

Speaking of which, the player most affected by the loss of Dockery has to be Ewing. The senior has been considered to be Duke's point guard most of the season, but he got a big assist -- no pun intended -- from Dockery, who did a lot of the dirty work. Dockery would bring the ball up the court, help set up the offense, dribble out clock if that was necessary, and would generally defend the other team's toughest floor leader. This left Ewing pretty free to move without the ball -- a strength for him -- and not expend a ton of energy chasing around the Ray Feltons of the basketball world. Ewing had a tough assignment in being the main defender on slippery Darryl "Showtime" Hill, and the fact that he's also our main distributor is affecting his jump shot, which was way off today. Ewing has a tendency to be sensational for chunks of the season, and then disappear. Krzyzewski has to make sure that he has the best Ewing possible on the court during postsea!
son play, and the best way to do it is to figure out a way to lighten his load.

On the bright side, Ewing's defense continues to be excellent. He harassed Hill, a 20 ppg scorer, into 10 points on 4-for-19 shooting.

Shelden didn't really have his typical dominant game, but he, like Redick, was limited by early fouls, which luckily hasn't been an issue often for him. He finished with eight points and his usual ten rebounds.

Hill mostly defended Redick, and Duke's star had a tough time shaking him free. Redick ended up shooting just 2-for-11, although he did hit all eight of his free throws and finished with 13 points. Even the best shooters sometimes have a rough day. (Just ask Salim Stoudamire) But it was still a little disappointing to see Redick not tear up the Garden like he usually does, going all the way back to his five threes in the Mecca during the McDonald's game.

What can you say about Melchionni? Coming off solid games against Wake and Georgia Tech, he proved once again that teams simply can't play off him. He slowed down in the second half, hitting just two free throws to finish with 16 points, but by that point, the Big Three were starting to come around a little. Lee does one thing very well, which is knock down open threes, but he also puts out maximum effort and has dramatically improved his defense, ripping down nine boards against the Johnnies. It's easy to see why Krzyzewski was so emphatic about having him as a role player on his team.

As for the other players, Reggie Love continues to prove useful, chipping in with three steals in 15 minutes. Shavlik Randolph continues to be something of a mystery, as he simply doesn't appear to possess the post game that would help him contribute more to this team. You just have to continue hoping that he figures out a way to maximize his talent at some point.

For St. John's, Showtime Hill had a rough game, but he's still so much fun to watch. You never quite know what you'll get when you get a guy off the playgrounds and integrate him into a major college team, but Showtime has made the Storm respectable and has taken some of the sting away from the embarassment of last season's hotel incident. Lamont Hamilton also played very well matched up against Williams, and he knew to take advantage of the fact that Williams was in foul trouble, making aggressive moves that turned into uncontested finishes. Norm Roberts has at least given this program hope that better days are ahead.

I was somewhat disappointed with the extra-curricular activities during the game. I'm a big NBA fan, so I'm sort of used to this, but given the rich tradition that St. John's has, I don't want to see stuff like little kids running back and forth in oversized clothing during every time out. Call me a traditionalist, but I think there are other ways to entertain crowds during breaks in the action. The worst, by far, was a sort of on-court host that the program would run out there during time outs to commentate the little contests and the like. He was cursed with a high-pitched grating voice that a friend of mine compared to a Seinfeld character, and was roundly booed by fans of both teams. St. John's should ditch him, like yesterday.

Regardless, given that Duke's three best players had perhaps their worst games of the season all in conjunction with each other, it did feel good to leave with a win over an overmatched but game St. John's team. The Johnnies had already beaten N.C. State and Virginia Tech this season, and luckily, Duke had no part in letting them secure the hat trick. Hopefully this series doesn't end now that Krzyzewski favorite Mike Jarvis is no longer a part of the program. Bringing this team to the Garden a couple of times a year energizes the metro area fan base, which came out en masse as usual, and it's a good idea to bring these kids to play in a place as storied as the Garden, an experience that Jason Williams talked about with reverence. With the big trip out of the way, Coach K can now work on figuring out what needs to be adjusted going into the home stretch.