It wasn’t that St. John’s (12-8) beat the Blue Devils (19-2), it was the way it happened.
The Red Storm, who had lost three straight and five of six, took control early and had a 46-25 lead at halftime. Duke, which came into the game shooting 40 percent from 3-point range, missed its first 10 shots from behind the arc and made one of 13 in the half.
The Blue Devils’ overall shooting wasn’t a whole lot better as they shot 29.6 percent (8 of 27) in the half—they entered the game shooting 48.1 percent from the field—and they were careless with the ball as well, committing 11 turnovers, one off their season average for a game.
St. John’s had a lot to do with how poorly Duke played, using a three-quarter court trap to force the Blue Devils into low percentage passes that almost all seemed to either be stolen by St. John’s or just thrown away.
Duke looked like a team playing a nonconference game on the road after playing six straight Atlantic Coast Conference games.
St. John’s, which gave the Big East a 6-1 record against teams ranked in the top 10 this season, was 16 of 28 from the field (57.1 percent) in the half, well above the 45.2 percent the Red Storm were shooting coming into the game.
Duke’s loss continued the weekend of misery for members of the Top 25. On Saturday, four teams in the top 10 and 11 ranked teams overall lost.
Justin Brownlee had 20 points, nine rebounds and six assists for the Red Storm, while Paris Horne added 15 points and six assists. St. John’s shot 58.2 percent for the game (32 of 55) and was 26 of 33 from the free throw line.
Nolan Smith led Duke with 32 points and Kyle Singler added 20.
Duke finished 5 of 26 from 3-point range and 17 turnovers.
The sellout crowd of 19,353 at Madison Square Garden—about 60 percent of whom were cheering for St. John’s—seemed to be waiting for a run by the Blue Devils, who had won four straight since its loss at Florida State, that would make their nightmare half go away.
St. John’s came out and scored the first two baskets of the second half—one on a dunk by D.J. Kennedy 10 seconds in, the other on a layup by Hardy off a nice pass from Dwayne Polee II—to take its biggest lead of the game, 50-25 1:04 into the second half.
St. John’s had doubled Duke and the Red Storm managed to score enough the rest of the way to keep the Blue Devils at bay. The closest Duke would get would be 11 points after they hit four straights 3-pointers to pull to 87-76.
The Red Storm started their run against ranked teams with a 61-58 victory over then-No. 13 Georgetown. After losses to Notre Dame and Syracuse, they beat then-No. 9 Notre Dame 72-54 in a rematch. Losses to Louisville, Cincinnati and Georgetown preceded the win over Duke. All three wins were at Madison Square Garden.
Duke had been as comfortable at the Garden as St. John’s. The Blue Devils had won their last five and 12 of 13 there and were 25-14 all-time.
The game got chippy for a while in the second half and double technicals were called twice before things settled down.