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Key three: Duke men's basketball must capitalize on size advantage to avoid another St. John's upset

<p>Zion Williamson looks to feast Saturday.</p>

Zion Williamson looks to feast Saturday.

Duke will host St. John's Saturday at 12 p.m. in its final nonconference contest of the regular season. The Blue Zone analyzes three key points that must be emphasized to come away with a win:

Lock down the perimeter

Although point guard Shamorie Ponds certainly sets the tone for St. John’s, the Red Storm have plenty of options to turn to when it comes to perimeter scoring. As a squad, St. John’s hits 38.5 percent of its looks, more than 7 percentage points better than Duke’s putrid 31.1 percent mark from beyond the arc.

Four members of the Red Storm make 1.5 or more 3-pointers per contest on a 35 percent or better conversion rate, Ponds, Mustapha Heron, L.J. Figueroa and Marvin Clark, meaning that quieting the St. John’s offensive attack will require a team effort from No. 2 Duke. While point guard Tre Jones, lauded by Blue Devil head coach as a lockdown defender, will be tasked with shutting down Ponds, Duke’s big men, including Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier, will need to step outside the paint defensively more than usual Saturday. 

If Bolden and company can continue to succeed in Duke’s one-through-five switching defense , a 3-point barrage from the Red Storm is unlikely.

Make the most of size advantage

Not a single player averaging more than 15 minutes a game for St. John’s stands taller than 6-foot-6 or weighs more than 225 pounds. This can be easily exploited by the Blue Devils, with a 6-foot-11, 245-pound Bolden and a 6-foot-7, 285-pound Zion Williamson in their starting lineup.

It’s hard enough to stop Williamson when you have the size to match up with him—against Virginia, Texas Tech and Kentucky, all top 10 defenses in the country according to KenPom.com’s defensive efficiency metric, the freshman sensation averaged 24 points on 65.8 percent from the field. 

But when Williamson gets to pick on somebody that’s not his own size, he becomes another beast. Saturday may be a repeat of the Spartanburg Day School product’s 27-point, 16-rebound and 6-block performance against similarly undersized Army.

Keep the streak alive

The Red Storm will be the last nonconference team to come into Cameron Indoor Stadium this season. On Saturday, the Blue Devils look to maintain the nation’s longest nonconference home winning streak intact. 

St. John’s has had some luck against Duke over the years. A monster effort from Ponds led a hapless 2017-18 Red Storm squad to an upset against the then-No. 4 Blue Devils, and a Bootsy Thornton-led 1999-00 St. John’s crew is the last road team to leave Durham with a win. Unless Ponds has another gamebreaking performance, expect Duke to extend its 19-year streak alive.

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