Duke holds off late St. John’s comeback

In his return to the starting lineup, Ryan Kelly had 16 points and nine rebounds, making 10-of-12 free throws.
In his return to the starting lineup, Ryan Kelly had 16 points and nine rebounds, making 10-of-12 free throws.

At the surface, Duke’s 83-76 non-conference victory over St. John’s would appear to be a satisfactory result. However, after seeing a 16-point halftime lead that ballooned to 22 points early in the second half become a four-point contest in the game’s waning moments, head coach Mike Krzyzewski was disgusted with his team’s effort, especially on the defensive end of the court.

“We did enough to win,” Krzyzewski said. “It makes me sick to say that. I hate saying ‘we did enough to win.’ It’s not who I am, and it’s not what this program is.”

The Blue Devils went into the locker room with a comfortable 45-29 lead, after holding the Red Storm to just 42 percent shooting in the first half and only allowing just one trip to the charity stripe. With the frontcourt players making a concerted effort to get out to the perimeter to hedge in high screen-and-roll situations, Duke was able to limit penetration.

A near seven-minute stretch at the end of the first half that saw the Blue Devils go on a 20-3 run was a perfect example of this effort as many St. John’s possessions ended with long field goal attempts late in the shot clock. For the half, the Johnnies recorded just two assists as they were not able to get in any type of flow offensively and frequently resorted to one-on-one play off the dribble.

However, the second half would be a very different story for Duke from both an intensity and execution standpoint.

“We were helping each other, and everyone was in a stance, being effective,” guard Seth Curry said. “But, we let up, and weren’t able to do it for 40 minutes. It was an embarrassment.”

One of the issues that would plague the Blue Devils for much of the second half was foul trouble. This became very apparent less than six minutes into the period, when forward Ryan Kelly picked up the Duke’s seventh team foul, putting St. John’s into the bonus for the rest of the game. A frequent offender was Tyler Thornton, who picked up four fouls in just ten in minutes of action and often showed questionable judgement when attempting to take a charge. For the half, the Red Storm would take 19 free throws, after attempting just two in the opening period.

St. John’s offensive attack was carried by freshmen Moe Harkless and D’Angelo Harrison, who combined to score 51 points, with 33 of those coming in the game’s last 20 minutes. Harrison did most of his damage from the perimeter, while Harkless showcased a nice inside-outside game that made him a matchup nightmare for the Duke frontline.

“They’re great players,” fellow freshman Austin Rivers said. “Harkless and Harrison had unbelievable games. I can’t take anything away from them and tip my hat to them.”

Krzyzewski, though, wasn’t quite as quick to heap praise on the other team. Instead, he questioned why his players let the game evolve into what he—and Austin Rivers, independently—described as an AAU game, referring to the summer circuit games where top prospects often play three or four times in a day, resulting in deteriorating defensive intensity.

On the half, the Red Storm would score 47 points, connecting on 5-of-10 3-pointers and also getting to the rim at will. Despite a significant size advantage, as St. John’s tallest player was 6-foot-8, Duke was not able to consistently alter shots at the basket.

And, the Blue Devil players would not disagree with their head coach’s diagnosis.

“We got comfortable,” Rivers said. “Our intensity wasn’t there. Coach K was so angry with us because our effort was lacking, and rightfully so.”

In his final remarks at the post-game press conference, Krzyzewski made it clear that his team did not meet his high level of expectations. Still, he acknowledged that it would be up to his players to allow his message to resonate and put the work in to get better on the defensive end. For a team that is giving up 69 points a game after yielding 65 and 61 in the previous two campaigns, discovering this extra intensity may very well determine the ultimate success of this season.


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