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Blue Devils next up for storming SJU

It was widely regarded as one of the best college basketball games of the season last year. St. John's vs. Duke, where 19,528 were on hand at a sold-out Madison Square Garden and no doubt thousands more will say they were there too. Who can forget Bootsy Thornton scoring 40 points on a bevy of threes? Or Ron Artest nailing a desperation three-pointer in the waning seconds of the second half to send the classic into overtime where the Red Storm finally succumbed to the Blue Devils, 92-88.

On Saturday at 4 p.m., college basketball fans will get to watch the sequel at Cameron Indoor Arena in Durham, N.C. It features a red-hot St. John's, on a six-game winning streak with two consecutive wins over top 25 teams against Duke (21-3), ranked No. 2 in the country in front of the "Cameron Crazies" in an arena St. John's coach Mike Jarvis calls "unlike any other place."

"Our hope in the beginning was that that atmosphere would help prepare us more for the NCAA tournament," Jarvis said. "We're going to go into Duke and the one thing I know about these guys, I've never seen them back down from anybody at any place at any time. We're going to go in and play another one of the all-time great college basketball programs."

Back-to-back rousing victories over Syracuse and Connecticut improved the Red Storm record to 19-7, all but assuring the school of its third straight NCAA at-large bid.

The Blue Devils have clinched at least a tie for their fourth-straight Atlantic Coast Conference championship with a 71-66 win at NC State last Saturday. Leading the way for Duke is senior forward Chris Carrawell. The 6-foot-6 forward has scored in double figures in 16 straight games and leads the team in scoring (18) and rebounds (6.3). Shane Battier should also cause problems for the Red Storm down low. The 6-foot-8-inch junior forward is second on the team in scoring, averaging 16.3 points per game to go along with 5.8 rebounds a game.

But the real gem of this Blue Devil team is its freshman class. While the team will be without freshman Mike Dunleavy, who is sidelined indefinitely after being diagnosed with mononucleosis, Duke still has a talented crop of first-year players. Leading the youth movement is freshman point guard Jason Williams (14.4 points per game) and power forward Carlos Boozer (13.3 points per game), who chose Duke over St. John's last year. The Duke freshmen have combined to score 45.4 percent of the team's points this season.

"There's a huge gamble that you take when you play a team that you know can be one of the top two or three teams in the country and play them so late in the year," Jarvis said. "As it's turning out, coming off of these two victories, if you had to go to Duke [this is the time to do it]."

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