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Duke blows away Red Storm

When freshman Omar Cook nailed a three-pointer with 8:30 remaining in the first half, the Red...

By Anthony Bosco

For nearly one half, the St. John’s Red Storm hung with the Duke Blue Devils, working the sold out Madison Square Garden into a near frenzy Sunday afternoon.

When freshman Omar Cook nailed a three-pointer with 8:30 remaining in the first half, the Red Storm pulled even at 20 and the capacity crowd roared its approval. But that would be the last time St. John’s would truly challenge Duke’s dominance, as the Blue Devils blew away any hopes of an upset in the second half en route to a 91-59 win.

The defeat was the fifth in the last seven games for St. John’s (13-11), which now has to concentrate on winning the Big East Tournament for a second straight year if the team is to make the NCAA Tournament.

“We’re going to use today, as humbling as it was, to get better,” said St. John’s head coach Mike Jarvis. “You can learn a lot from today. As tough as it was I think we’re still going to come out of this and grow.”

Despite a decent first half, in which the Red Storm shot 44.1 percent from the field to Duke’s 57.6 percent, the Blue Devils used a 10-0 run bridging the two halves to all but take St. John’s out of the game just three minutes into the second half.

Following Cook’s three to tie the game at 20, Duke responded with back-to-back threes by Chris Duhon and Jason Williams to reestablish a six-point lead. The advantage grew to nine, 34-25, moments later on consecutive buckets by Carlos Boozer, and then to 12 following Shane Battier’s slam dunk and another Duhon three at 2:27.

Cook’s second three — his last points of the game — and Anthony Glover’s layup pulled St. John’s within seven again with 1:45 to play, but Duke (23-3) scored six of the period’s last eight points, including Williams’ layup at the buzzer after driving to the length of the court. The bucket gave Duke a double-digit lead, 45-34, heading into the break.

“We knew they were going to come out and play hard against us,” said Glover, who had 19 points in the first half, but only four during the game’s final 20 minutes. “They hustled for the ball and I think they did a good job contesting our shots.”

“I thought they came out sluggish in the first half,” said SJU guard Sharif Fordham, who had 12 points and 10 rebounds. “They came out better in the second half.”

What kept St. John’s in the game throughout the first half was Cook’s ability to penetrate and dish to a wide open Glover, left free by Battier, who stepped up to meet Cook in the lane. Duke adjusted in the second half, taking both Cook and Glover out of the game. Freshman Willie Shaw was also limited throughout, missing eight of his field goal attempts.

“We wanted to limit Cook and Shaw and obviously our guys did that,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. “We did a better job keeping Cook out of the lane [in the second half]. I think we played his penetration much better.”

It didn’t help matters that Cook picked up his third foul just seconds into the second half, forcing the point guard to avoid contact on the defensive end and limiting his ability to drive full steam into the lane.

Cook finished the game with just six points, eight assists and eight turnovers before fouling out in the final minutes.

It didn’t take Duke long to put St. John’s away in the second half. The Blue Devils scored the first eight points of the period to take a commanding 19-point lead at 17:52 following a Battier three-pointer.

St. John’s was with 16 after Alpha Bangura scored at 13:12, but Duke came back with 12 straight points, capped by another Battier three at 9:54, giving the Blue Devils a 29-point lead, 72-43.

The Red Storm briefly came back to life when, down 82-49, they scored eight straight points, six by Fordham, but it was too little too late for the Johnnies.

“We’re really happy with the win,” Krzyzewski said. “To play that well at the Garden against Mike’s team is big for us. It just helps to have veteran players. A younger team can get emotionally tired. I thought they wore down.”

“We’re way much better than that,” said Cook, who shot 2-for-16 from the floor. “We could have gave them a better game. We could have won the game They’ve been through things like this.”

Duke had five players in double figures. Williams led all scorers with 26 points, adding seven rebounds and six assists. Battier had 18 points, eight rebounds and seven blocks, Chris Duhon scored 15 off the bench, Mike Dunleavy added 13 and Boozer finished with 10.

With the team just two games above .500 with four games to play — against Georgetown, Boston College, Villanova and Syracuse — Jarvis said he is turning his team’s attention toward defending the Big East crown the Storm won last season. Winning the tournament may be the only thing that salvages a bid in the NCAA Tournament.

“After the last conference game we basically decided that everything we did would be towards defending the Big East championship,” Jarvis said. “Anything that happens between now and then is just preparation for that.”

After a meeting with Georgetown Wednesday, St. John’s will travel to take on Villanova Sunday at 3:30 p.m. The Red Storm defeated the Wildcats earlier this season, 82-70.

Providence 64, St. John’s 53. The Friars led by just one at the half, but pulled away from St. John’s in the second half en route to an 11-point win last Wednesday. The loss snapped St. John’s 27-game campus winning streak, despite 16 from Cook and 10 from Glover. John Linehan led Providence with 13. Queens native Karim Shabazz had seven points, eight rebounds and three blocks for the Friars.

Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

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