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Cook struggles against Duke’s Williams

Struggling St. John’s also had a...

By Dylan Butler

St. John’s freshman point guard Omar Cook had another chance to play against one of the nation’s elite point guards Sunday as sophomore sensation Jason Williams and the Duke Blue Devils invaded Madison Square Garden.

Struggling St. John’s also had a chance — a chance to see how it measured up against one of the nation’s top teams.

But in the 91-59 loss — the worst St. John’s loss at the Garden in 41 years — the former Christ the King standout and the rest of his teammates learned their lesson the hard way. They are not there, not yet.

While both downplayed their first head-to-head meeting in college, it was clear the 6-foot-2 Williams, who many consider to be the top point guard in the country, outplayed Cook.

Williams finished with a game-high 26 points to go along with seven rebounds and six assists for No. 3 Duke while Cook had six points on 2-for-16 shooting and eight assists. Each point guard had eight turnovers.

“Jason Williams was terrific,” said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “He didn’t have a good game in our last game [a 91-89 loss] against Virginia. I thought he responded like a veteran in coming back.”

Of course Williams’ supporting cast didn’t hurt. The All-American from Plainfield, N.J. had options like the versatile Shane Battier (18 points) both inside and on the perimeter, the bruising Carlos Boozer in the paint and guys like Chris Duhon from outside who, “shoot threes like it’s a layup sometimes,” Krzyzewski said.

“They have so many weapons on their team that you can’t just concentrate on him,” Cook said. “If he’s coming off that top screen, you got Shane Battier popping out, you can’t get so much help.

“Basically, his support is so good, they shoot the ball so well, it’s hard to defend four shooters on the wing.”

And it was that kind of support that Cook was lacking. Along with fellow freshman Willie Shaw, the Red Storm backcourt combined to shoot 2-for-24, 2-for-14 from beyond the arc. The only option it seemed Cook had was to go inside to junior Anthony Glover.

In the first half Cook’s ability to slash set up easy baskets for Glover, who had 19 points in the first half alone. But in the second half, especially with Cook picking up his third foul 29 seconds into the stanza and his fourth six minutes later, even that option was not available.

“It really hurt us when I picked up my third foul early,” Cook said. “It limited me going to the basket. I kind of held back in the second half.”

Added Battier: “He’s a great player, but we wanted him to work for everything he got today.”

St. John’s played a spirited first half and trailed 43-34 before Williams went the length of the court to score a buzzer-beating layup.

Leading by 11, Williams keyed a deciding 8-0 run to open the second half. After two free throws by Boozer, Williams scored on a three-point play. He then stripped Cook at halfcourt, dished to Battier who nailed a three-pointer as Duke extended its lead to 19, 53-34.

“At the point guard spot, a person is judged on if his team wins the game or not,” Williams said. “That’s the biggest thing for me and I’m just happy we came in here and really executed and played a good game.”

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

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