Almost one year ago to the day, an unranked St. John’s team toppled then-No. 4 Duke 81-77, led by a herculean 33-point effort from Red Storm point guard Shamorie Ponds.
Saturday afternoon, the Blue Devils took on an unranked St. John’s squad that relies on Ponds for offense once again. However, the Red Storm were not so lucky Saturday, and No. 2 Duke dismantled St. John’s 91-61. Zion Williamson had eight points in the final two minutes of the opening period to give the Blue Devils a 10-point advantage heading into the locker room and Duke would open up a 20-point advantage early in the second period.
While Williamson stole the show with 29 points and numerous highlight slams, it was the play of point guard Tre Jones which led to the lopsided showing on the scoreboard.
With three minutes remaining in the first half and just a two-point Blue Devil lead, Jones stole the ball from Ponds, and took it himself for a right-handed layup to make the score 37-33. The Jones takeaway incited a 26-6 run spanning both periods that gave Duke a 61-39 lead, leaving no doubt of the game’s outcome just a few moments into the second half. The Blue Devil freshman completely shut down Ponds, who was held scoreless by Jones in the first half, missing all five of his attempts in the period.
“[Tre] understands the value of his defense," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "It’s not a personal stat, but if he’s doing his job, then they’re going to shoot under 40 percent. He’s as good at defense as anybody else in the country.”
"How does he play defense like that?" Blue Devil forward R.J. Barrett said. "I’m trying to learn."
It was not until nearly five minutes into the second half that Ponds, who averaged 20.9 points per contest heading into Saturday afternoon, connected on his first field goal, with his team already in a 24-point hole.
"I just wanted to come out and set the tone defensively from the start," Jones said. "He’s their best player and the key to their team, so I know if I was able to affect how he is playing, then that would have a big effect on their team."
Despite an early scoring barrage from Marvin Clark II, who had nine points at the game's first media timeout, St. John’s was unable to recover from the lockdown defensive effort from Jones.
The Blue Devils (19-2) opened the game on an absolute tear—Duke scored on each of its first five possessions. Jones immediately proved his worth on the offensive end as well. To begin the contest, he found Cam Reddish on the left wing for a 3-pointer, before making a shot from beyond the arc himself the ensuing possession.
Reddish had perhaps his strongest half of the season, with 13 points in the opening period. In addition to strong outside shooting, the Norristown, Pa., native finally looked confident creating his own offense, and got to the line on a fast break drive on two occasions. Reddish's 16 points marked his best output since his 23 points against Florida State Jan. 12, and he had shot just 22.2 percent in his last four contests.
"Instead of just having him focusing on shooting, I've tried to say, 'Look, you're a good basketball player. Just play, and the scoring will come,'" Krzyzewski said. "And it's come, and he's on an upward trend."
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As Duke frequently does, it practically ran the Red Storm (16-6) out of the building at the end of the first half, grabbing a comfortable 10-point advantage by halftime.
With Jones dominating defensively for Duke, it was Williamson who made everything happen on offense. The fellow freshman tallied another extremely efficient performance, shooting 76.5 percent from the field, and caused Cameron Indoor to shake on numerous occasions as Williamson added five more dunks to his ledger.
Following a solid seven-point, six-rebound night against Notre Dame Monday, Blue Devil center Marques Bolden impressed again, with 10 points and six rebounds on 4-of-6 shooting. Although Bolden struggled to keep up with the quicker Clarke in the beginning of the contest, the DeSoto, Texas, native recovered nicely, playing a key role in the huge Duke run that gashed the game open.
“Since Christmas break, he’s played so well,” Krzyzewski said. “It was beautiful what he was doing, and once we started defensive rebounding in the second half that’s when we blew it open.”
With the St. John’s game behind it, Duke officially has wrapped up its regular season nonconference slate. Next week, Duke will host Boston College Tuesday at 7 p.m. before traveling to face No. 3 Virginia Saturday evening in Charlottesville.