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Duke Survives St. John's, 83-76

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by Jim Sumner

Duke started another home winning streak Saturday and extended a non-conference home winning streak to 94 games. But Saturday's 83-76 win over St. John's isn't a candidate for a time capsule, unless it's for the category how-not-to-finish-off-an-opponent.

"We did enough to win, which almost makes me sick to say that," Mike Krzyzewski maintained. "I hate saying that. That's not who I am and not who this program is. We don't do enough-to-win. We play really good basketball and then hopefully, we win. Believe me, I do this all the time and I'm not pleased with today. I'm not pleased with today one bit."

Duke fell behind 6-2 but used a 12-2 run to get some separation. Duke grabbed six offensive rebounds in the first 3:37 and converted them into eight foul shots, five of which they converted. Star St. John's forward Moe Harkless picked up two quick fouls.

The expected blow-out seemed ready to materialize when the Blue Devils started hitting from outside. Andre Dawkins nailed a quartet of first-half 3-pointers, while Austin Rivers and Tyler Thornton added one apiece. Meanwhile, Mason Plumlee was ruling the glass, to the tune of 12 first-half rebounds. It was 43-23 late in the half, 45-29 at intermission, after Ryan Kelly beat the buzzer with a slam follow.

An exasperated Krzyzewski said it should have been more. "The first half, I thought we played well defensively. But we have to finish plays. Quite frankly we should have had over 60 points in the first half. We missed , even at the start of the game, so many shots inside."

Duke extended the lead to 22 at 54-32. Then, as it has so many times this season, Duke sailed into the Horse Latitudes, that region of calm seas and light winds that strands sailing ships. Or, to use another analogy, Duke got St. John's on the ropes but decided it had captured enough rounds to win on points.

Ryan Kelly said the lack of second-half intensity could be seen on both sides of the ball. "We had a chance to blow it open but we didn't. In the second half, we weren't as aggressive on the offensive end and our defense was poor."

Keep in mind, virtually everyone on the St. John's team is a freshman. But Harkless played through foul trouble and D'Angelo Harrison consistently broke down Duke's defense off the dribble.

Krzyzewski said both were hungry scorers and Duke needed hungry defenders to stop them. None were to be found.

Miles Plumlee made two foul shots to put Duke up 63-45, with 12:13 left. But Harrison hit a lay-up, then a 3, St. John's got a freebie and then Phil Greene scored five points, while Duke was stuck on 63. In a matter of only three minutes, the lead was down to seven.

Krzyzewski and Austin Rivers both compared this stretch to AAU ball, that defensively-challenged pastime in which nothing seems to much matter. "They just kept coming down, there was no good defense," Rivers said. "Guys were throwing the ball everywhere, including myself. It was a little unorganized. In the second half, they outfought us and that led us being in a mode where everybody was one-on-one instead of being five against five. They had no pressure, they were shooting freely."

Krzyzewski's take? "You run, you score, I run, I score. Then suddenly, I don't score and its a nine-point game and it's not an AAU game today. That's not the way it works."

Rivers stabilized Duke with a couple of lay-ups and Curry converted a base-line jumper. Duke was up 69-59, with 6:28 left. That would be Duke's last field goal of the game but the Blue Devils did convert 14-for-16 from the line down the stretch.

But St. John's just kept coming and Duke could not get stops. Harkless kept channeling Bootsy Thornton and a Harrison 3-pointer got the deficit to four before the comeback ran out of steam. Or time.

St. John's scored 31 points over the final 12 minutes.

Krzyzewski made no attempt to hide the fact that Duke's defense was not up to the program's standard. "The execution defensively was not there the second half. St. John's stayed in there and then you start missing a couple of shots and you have game pressure on you and I think our team showed they had game pressure, they think 'how are we in this game'? I can tell you. We're not playing defense, we're not finishing."


Mason Plumlee ended with a career-high 17 rebounds. He now has 205 in 21 games.

Austin Rivers had five assists but could have doubled that had his teammates knocked down some open shots. Ryan Kelly missed an uncontested lay-up early after a Rivers entry pass, Dawkins missed at least two open three 3-pointers off Rivers passes, while Curry also missed an open 3. All of the early angst over Rivers' alleged inability to find open teammates seems overwrought now.

Harkless led everyone with 30 points. The last visiting freshman to hit the 30-point mark was Virginia's Courtney Alexander, who scored 30 in 1996. Harkless is no fluke. He had 32 against Providence, 21 against Georgetown and 23 against West Virginia.

Krzyzewski gave some insight into what makes him tick in the post-game. "In order to be really good, you have to be different. There's only one champion. There are only a few programs that separate themselves. So, you can't do what normal people do. You have to do something better. We let up. I want to win. I want to win by playing great basketball. To me, it was a loss today. It was a loss. I didn't like today. If my team doesn't like today, then, we'll get better. If my team is okay about today, we're going to fight. Because I'm not going to change."

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