NEW YORK — Lee Melchionni was the only one awake for the start of Saturday’s matinee at Madison Square Garden, but it was enough for a Blue Devil victory.
The junior forward, who until this year was often the forgotten member of his star-studded recruiting class, scored 14 of Duke’s 28 first-half points, giving the team an 11-point lead at the break.
Duke (21-4) ultimately held onto the advantage in an evenly played second half and defeated a young St. John’s (9-16) team 58-47 despite the Blue Devils’ worst offensive performance of the season.
Head coach Mike Krzyzewski credited the hard-nose defensive effort from the Red Storm for his team’s 31.4 field goal percentage and lowest point total of the season.
“I thought they played really hard on J.J. [Redick], they double-teamed Shelden [Williams], they had a good game plan and we didn’t react as well to it,” Krzyzewski said. “Some of the looks we did have we didn’t knock down.
“A game is cumulative—if you keep putting pressure on somebody, even when they have an opening sometimes, that pressure lingers there, and St. John’s was there the whole game. So even if it seemed like an open look, because they’d been playing hard the whole game, that presence of hard work from the other team has its impact.”
Daniel Ewing, Williams and Redick ended the first half shooting a combined 0-for-12 from the field with four points. Half of those attempts were open looks from three-point range for Ewing and Redick, and neither could connect. Williams only logged five minutes in the opening half because he already had two fouls.
“In the first half we kind of rushed some shots, and that was the reason we started so bad,” Ewing said. “We have to be better at executing our plays better when we run them, and we have to do a better job of finishing when we get the ball down low.”
To offset the ineptitude of the “big three,” Melchionni hit open looks from long range. The smooth-shooting lefty shot 4-for-7 from behind the arc and had a team-high six rebounds before the break.
“I’m confident as a player,” Melchionni said. “I feel like I always should’ve been playing, of course, but that was just coach’s decision. We just have to go into every game with confidence, and this year I’ve had some opportunities because of some injuries and it has been great. We just have to keep it going into March.”
As offensively-troubled as Duke was in the first half, St. John’s was worse. The team shot 5-for-24 from the field and had 12 fouls and 13 turnovers.
In the second half, the game became more up-tempo and both teams scored a few easy baskets in transition. The Red Storm made a couple of second-half runs but could never get closer than four points.
Get Overtime, all Duke athletics
Signup for our editorially curated, weekly newsletter. Cancel at any time.
With 11 minutes to go, Daryll Hill, St. John’s most productive offensive player, darted past Ewing and hit a tough running jumper from the top of the key to draw within nine. A few possessions later, Redick committed one of his five turnovers, which led to a wide-open layup for guard Cedric Jackson, bringing the score to 33-38.
The run ended when Ewing hit his only three of the game on the next possession, but the Red Storm were not finished.
The speedy Hill stole the ball again from Redick and dribbled up the court with about eight minutes left. As he crossed halfcourt, he was trapped by two Duke defenders but split them with a quick hesitation move. Hill then fired a long pass through traffic to a wide-open Lamont Hamilton, who converted the layup to bring the score to 37-41. The Garden crowd exploded, but that was as close as the home team would get.
The two squads traded baskets for the last six minutes. Ewing hit a few key jumpers from about 16 feet and the Blue Devils were perfect from the free-throw line down the stretch.
“I thought their kids played their hearts out,” Krzyzewski said of his opponent. “They are a scrappy basketball team trying to muck anything out.”
The team was playing without point guard Sean Dockery, who tore his medial collateral ligament during the team’s last game at Georgia Tech Feb. 23.
Redick failed to score 20 points for only the seventh time this season and broke a 12-game streak of hitting at least three treys.... Williams failed to record a double-double. Prior to this game, he had accomplished this 12 times in his last 18 contests....
David McClure logged four minutes—which all came in the first half—and scored four points on two layups. The game was his second after recovering from left knee surgery performed Feb. 1.... Patrick Davidson logged three minutes—two in the first half and one in the second half.