NEW YORK—Trailing 61-51 with nine minutes remaining in Madison Square Garden against St. John’s, Saturday’s matchup felt similar to a game that went down in Blue Devil history just three years earlier.

Duke trailed 61-51 with eight minutes remaining the last time these teams faced off Jan. 25, 2015, but the Blue Devils’ closed the game on a 26-7 run, highlighted by a 22-point outburst by then-freshman Tyus Jones to deliver head coach Mike Krzyzewski his 1,000th career victory.

This game had a similar feel from the onset. Sophomore Shamorie Ponds has not been fazed by top-10 opponents all season, and rather has been dominant in the spotlight at home. Ponds dropped 37 points Jan. 11 against No. 1 Villanova, and poured in a 31-point outburst Tuesday in the Red Storm’s 73-68 loss against No. 6 Xavier.

Ponds once again came alive Saturday, leading St. John’s with 33 points, including 24 of them in the second half, helping the Red Storm hold on to an 81-77 upset victory against No. 4 Duke. The win snapped an 11-game losing streak for St. John’s, which is winless in its conference.

“We did not play basketball the first 32 minutes worthy of our program,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “We were like five individuals out there, and it was disgusting, really. They were a very frustrating group to coach today because they didn’t respond to anything until the last eight minutes. That’s unacceptable. That is unacceptable.”

With about two minutes left, a 3-pointer and a pair of free throws from Gary Trent Jr. gave Duke its first lead since the 16:53 mark in the second half after it trailed by as many as 11 points.

But after a made layup at the other end by Ponds put the Red Storm up 74-73, freshman Trevon Duval’s free throw woes continued, as he missed a pair that would have given the Blue Devils the lead back. After a 3-pointer by Ponds extended the lead to four, Allen nailed his first shot of the contest, a clutch triple to bring Duke back within one at 77-76.

“It’s really hard to defend,” senior captain Grayson Allen said. “He makes a lot of tough shots and he’s extremely aggressive. Him as a player, he’s really good with the ball. That’s what he does, and you can’t let a guy like that get going.”



Tariq Owens continued his stellar 17-point performance with consecutive free throws, and a missed free throw by Marvin Bagley III and a missed 3-pointer by Allen with five seconds left gave the Red Storm the victory.

“We know we have that in us,” Duval said of his team’s ability to mount a comeback. “We’ve done it before and we almost did it today. But not every time it’s going to work out like that. Sometimes you have to take care of business in the beginning instead of waiting until the end.” 

The Blue Devils (19-4) got off to a rough start defensively, allowing the Red Storm to convert on 71.4 percent of their attempts in the first four minutes, but Duke held a 12-11 lead with hot shooting of its own. 

Trent continued his hot shooting out of the gates Saturday. Entering the game converting better than 58 percent from the perimeter following the Blue Devils’ upset loss at N.C. State, the Columbus, Ohio native drained five of his seven attempts from the perimeter, guiding the Blue Devils into the locker room with a 39-32 lead with 14 first-half points.

St John’s (11-13), however, stormed out into the second half hungry for a victory with a 10-2 run. After Bagley picked up his third foul with just 16:53 remaining in the second half, Ponds drained a 3-pointer at the other end to give St. John’s its first lead of the contest 42-41. The Red Storm would use a strong shooting half to extend the lead to 11 with six minutes to play.

But just like the last meeting, the Blue Devils would not quit, riding strong second-half performances from freshmen Wendell Carter Jr. and Duval to cut the St. John’s lead to just four with three minutes remaining. Carter’s 14 points, including a perfect 8-of-8 shooting from the line, and 15 rebounds helped lead the Blue Devils back. 

Despite the halftime lead, defensive woes and an inability to maintain possession of the ball plagued the Blue Devils in the first half. After coughing the ball up 16 times last weekend against Virginia, Duke turned it over 18 times Saturday. 

“It’s a whole bunch of things that we can look back on and say, ‘We could’ve done that better, we could’ve done this better,’” Duval said. “But it’s all a team effort. We all could’ve played better defense. We all could’ve played better offense, took better shots. We could’ve cut our turnovers down and made free throws, those type of things also win games.... We could’ve played better as a team.”

Duval especially saw his struggles lift with a strong nine points and three assists in the second half.

Coming off his worst offensive performance at the collegiate level against Notre Dame Monday—a 4-for-14 shooting night—Bagley’s struggles continued Saturday. Despite a much more efficient 19 points on 6-of-10 shooting, the freshman phenom was also plagued by turnovers, coughing the ball up six times while getting into foul trouble in the second half.

“It’s basketball, you’re not going to be perfect,” Bagley said. “It’s just a game, you’ve got to earn it more. It is what it is, you’ve got to move on from it. We didn’t play hard like we wanted to, and that was really it.

The Blue Devils will return to the floor Thursday when they visit North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

“I will do the things that I’ve done for 43 years to make sure that the next time we go out, we have an acceptable performance by our Duke team,” Krzyzewski said.