Fresh off a convincing win at Creighton to kick off its crucial three-game road swing, the St. John’s men’s basketball team will play its non-conference finale inside one of college basketball’s most storied venues, taking on No. 2 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday at noon.
The contest will be carried live on ESPN with Bob Wischusen, Dick Vitale and Allison Williams on the call. 570 AM WMCA will broadcast the game in the New York Metropolitan Area, as John Minko and Tarik Turner will deliver the action from Durham.
The Red Storm (16-5, 4-5 BIG EAST) will look to top Duke (18-2, 7-1 ACC) for the second straight season, having downed the No. 4 Blue Devils last year at a sold-out Madison Square Garden behind 33 points from Shamorie Ponds. The victory, coupled with the Red Storm’s win at No. 1 Villanova just four days later, marked the first time in program history that St. John’s had defeated top-five opponents in consecutive games.
With a win, the Johnnies would become the first program since Stanford in 1999-2000 and 2000-01 to defeat the Blue Devils in consecutive regular seasons.
The last time Duke dropped a non-conference game at Cameron Indoor Stadium came on Feb. 26, 2000, when Bootsy Thornton scored 22 points to lead the Red Storm to an 83-82 victory. Since that day, Duke has defeated all 146 non-league opponents it has hosted at Cameron. Prior to that game, the Blue Devils had not fallen to a non-conference foe at Cameron since losing to Michigan on Dec. 8, 1996.
With a 12-0 record against non-conference foes, St. John’s could secure just its third undefeated non-league slate in program history with a win over the Blue Devils. The Johnnies last accomplished the feat in 1990-91, a season that saw junior forward Malik Sealy lead St. John’s to an appearance in the Elite Eight. St. John’s also went undefeated against non-league opponents in 1982-83, when sophomore Chris Mullin anchored the Red Storm to 28 wins and the school’s first BIG EAST crown. Now the team’s head coach, Mullin also won the first of three straight BIG EAST Player of the Year awards that season.
After dropping four of its last five decisions, the Red Storm seemed to right the ship on Wednesday night in Omaha. Playing in one of college basketball’s most energetic environments, the Johnnies shot a season-high 57.9 percent from the floor and hit 13 of their 31 three-point tries. Ponds led the way with 26 points on 10-of-17 shooting, including a 4-for-8 showing from beyond the arc. In addition to his scoring touch, the junior guard from Brooklyn also tallied game-highs in assists (8), rebounds (8) and steals (6). Through games played on Wednesday, Ponds leads the league in assists (5.7 apg) and steals (2.8 spg) while ranking third in the conference in scoring average (20.9 ppg).
Mustapha Heron and LJ Figueroa also turned in efficient performances against the Bluejays scoring 17 and 15 points, respectively, while combining to shoot 14-of-23 from the floor, including a 12-for-14 effort from two-point range.
With starting guard Justin Simon limited to just seven minutes of game action thanks to a migraine, Bryan Trimble Jr. made the most of his time in the lineup. The sophomore guard reached double figures for the second time in his St. John’s tenure, making three of his five attempts from deep and finishing with 11 points in a career-high 33 minutes. Fellow Kansas City native Marvin Clark II narrowly missed making it five in double figures for St. John’s, scoring nine points on 3-of-5 shooting from deep and grabbing seven boards.
The Johnnies, who start four upperclassmen with at least 78 collegiate appearances under their belt, will pit experience against highly touted young talent when the teams take the floor for the 24th time in the history of the two programs on Saturday. RJ Barrett, the team’s leading scorer at 23.6 points per game, is the son of Rowan Barrett, who started 52 of his 99 appearances for St. John’s from 1992-96. Zion Williamson averages 22.0 points and a team-high 9.2 rebounds per game for the Blue Devils while Cam Reddish ranks third on the squad with 12.8 points per outing. Despite those previously mentioned freshmen occupying the top three spots in last year’s ESPN Top 100 rankings for their class, one could argue that point guard Tre Jones has been the engine behind the team’s success this year. He has averaged 8.1 points and a team-high 5.6 assists per game while establishing a reputation as one of the nation’s top on-ball defenders.
Following their date with Duke, the Johnnies will conclude their three-game road swing with another trip to take on a top 10 foe. The Red Storm will square off with No. 10 Marquette at the newly constructed Fiserv Forum in Milwaukee, a building that has yet to play host to a Golden Eagles loss.
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