What a difference a week makes.
Just seven days ago, Duke was riding high off recent victories over North Carolina and Maryland as well as a 12-game winning streak. The Blue Devils stood at 10-0 in the ACC and were ranked No. 2 in the nation. The talk around Cameron Indoor Stadium-and across the country-was of No. 1 seeds and the Final Four.
But after consecutive losses on the road to unranked Wake Forest and Miami, No. 5 Duke (22-3) has faced a bit of harsh reality--. This team cannot afford a letdown against anyone-not even a bottom-feeder in the Big East.
St. John's (10-15) comes to Cameron Indoor Stadium Saturday at 4 p.m. as one of the weakest teams in its conference, but the Blue Devils know that regardless of the stature of their opponent, they must right the ship.
"We're going to turn this thing back around," guard DeMarcus Nelson said. "We've been too good all year to have whatever it is holding us back as a team. We're definitely going to find out what it is and address it. Our season is not going on a downward spiral."
Duke faces a familiar foe in the Red Storm, which looks to extend the Blue Devils' losing streak to three. St. John's, however, is in the midst of a three-game losing streak of its own and has had little success against Duke in the recent past. Last season, Duke jumped out to a 34-10 halftime lead before holding on for a 67-50 win at Madison Square Garden, its seventh win over the Red Storm in nine seasons.
The last time Duke faced St. John's, the circumstances were completely different. The Blue Devils had won three straight ACC games following a four-game conference losing streak. That game would be the last time Duke would win all season, however, as the team would eventually drop its final two ACC games and the first-round games of both the ACC and NCAA Tournaments.
This time around, though, Duke hopes to use the non-conference matchup to position itself well for a strong finish in its ACC regular-season slate.
Forward Lance Thomas admitted that the team may have taken a deep breath after two big wins over the Tar Heels and Terrapins, but said that the team spent Thursday's practice trying to get back on track.
"We're refocused," Thomas said. "We have to make sure we come back on strong."
One Blue Devil who has struggled as of late is guard Gerald Henderson. The sophomore is averaging 12.2 points per game on the season, but has only averaged six over the last four games. Henderson has been playing through a sprained right wrist and only played 19 minutes Wednesday against Miami.
Following his team's one-point loss to the Hurricanes, head coach Mike Krzyzewski wondered whether another team had invaded his players bodies in the past two games. In uncharacteristic fashion, Krzyzewski's Blue Devils have given up an average of 91 points per game over their last two contests. Although Duke scored 59 points in the second half in Coral Gables Wednesday, the Hurricanes scored 55 points of their own and shot 57.1 percent from the field for the night.
Luckily for Duke, St. John's scores only 62.5 points per contest-good for last in the Big East. While the Blue Devils may be able to afford a poor performance against the struggling Red Storm and still come away with a victory, their sense of urgency must return.
Nothing solves problems better than a victory, and perhaps St. John's will provide the best medicine to heal whatever funk Duke has all of a sudden found itself in. And after Wednesday's loss, there's only one way for the Blue Devils to look at their recent slump.
"We have to hate this," Nelson said Wednesday. "We have to hate this."
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