Duke ends losing streak, beats St. John's

Duke 85, St. John's 56
February 23, 2008 5:09:00 PM PST
When Duke lost twice in four days, its self-confidence took a serious hit. The fifth-ranked Blue Devils don't yet have all of it back - but they still had more than enough to blow out St. John's on Saturday. Coach Mike Krzyzewski's team snapped its losing streak and rediscovered a measure of its swagger with an 86-56 romp over the struggling Red Storm, a balanced victory led by 16 points from freshman Kyle Singler.

"The roots of confidence, individually and collectively on our team, are not deep yet, and they shouldn't be with so many developing players," Krzyzewski said. "When you get knocked back, you've got to re-establish those roots, and it's not going to come in one game."

Gerald Henderson and Nolan Smith scored 13 points apiece for the Blue Devils (23-3), who overwhelmed St. John's with a 32-9 run late in the first half and cruised to their NCAA-leading 59th straight nonconference victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Jon Scheyer added 12 points in his first start of the season and center Brian Zoubek had 11 points and a career-high 13 rebounds for Duke, which showed none of the ballhandling or defensive problems that plagued it in losses at Wake Forest and Miami.

Instead, the Blue Devils got things clicking again at the expense of a young St. John's team that has eight freshmen in the rotation. Duke, which allowed an average of 91 points in the two defeats, forced the Big East's worst offense into 18 turnovers, limited it to 3-of-13 shooting from 3-point range and held it to two field goals during a 9½-minute first-half stretch.

"It was very important that we came out here playing well (to) get the win," Singler said. "We just wanted to kind of regroup, just find out what was missing within that group, and it showed on the defensive end."

Anthony Mason Jr., who leads the Red Storm (10-16) with a 15.2-point average, was held to four points on 2-of-11 shooting. Freshman D.J. Kennedy had 16 points to lead the Red Storm, the last non-Atlantic Coast Conference team to win at Cameron.

"My team plays hard all the time," coach Norm Roberts said. "I just can't make freshmen juniors."

Almost exactly eight years ago, they came here and knocked off the Blue Devils 86-85. But this time, Duke denied them their first road victory against a ranked opponent under Roberts and instead sent them to their fourth straight loss.

"They're so quick, and they can really shoot the 3," Roberts said. "We didn't do a great job in transition, and I think a lot of it happened because we missed a lot of open shots, which led to long rebounds."

Scheyer, a starter in 2006-07 who has flourished in his sophomore season as Duke's sixth man, replaced Henderson in the lineup. Henderson played with a brace protecting his sprained right wrist, and Krzyzewski said the sophomore guard will require surgery on it after the season.

"It looked like he wasn't bothered" by the brace, Krzyzewski said. "That doesn't mean he isn't, but he's adjusting, and you try to make those adjustments and it hurts you. ... Jon's a starter anyway, but sometimes just a little, not a punishment or anything, but quit thinking about that and just try to play the best you can with what you have. I thought (Henderson) did that today."

St. John's kept things tight in the opening moments, taking a 7-0 lead to stun the Cameron Crazies, before the Blue Devils took command midway through the half.

Scheyer scored 12 points during the decisive run, and Singler bookended it. He started the burst with a 3-pointer from the left wing with about 10½ minutes left that made it 18-16 and put the Blue Devils ahead to stay, then capped it with a layup from Smith that pushed the lead to 47-25 1:06 before the break.

"For us, when we got down in the beginning, it was just, 'We can't let it happen again,"' Scheyer said. "We were playing a little tentative in the beginning just because we didn't want to lose that bad. Instead, we should have been playing so aggressively because we didn't want to lose. That's something we changed throughout the game."