During an 11-game losing streak that dates all the way back to December, St. John’s lost by 25 points to a decent Butler team, by 22 to a so-so Providence team and by 17 to a bad DePaul team. With that in mind, you could have been forgiven for writing off the Red Storm entering their game against No. 4 Duke on Saturday.
But after falling behind by double digits in the first half, St. John’s outscored Duke 49-38 after the break to defeat the Blue Devils 81-77 behind 33 points from Shamorie Ponds. The victory marks the first victory of 2018 for St. John’s, which remains under .500 at 11-13.
— St. John's BBall (@StJohnsBBall) February 3, 2018
St. John’s is certainly not any sort of title contender (or even an NCAA Tournament contender), but Chris Mullin’s team is probably a bit better than its record suggests. KenPom.com has the Red Storm as the 85th best team in the country, ahead of numerous major-conference schools with superficially stronger resumes. And though St. John’s suffered some bad losses during its losing streak, it also played tight with No. 1 Villanova and hung around with No. 6 Xavier on two occasions. Still, no one with much sense would have pegged them to upset Duke, led by Player-of-the-Year candidate Marvin Bagley.
From Duke’s perspective, the loss to St. John’s could signal call for alarm. After losing only two of their first 20 games of the season, the Blue Devils have now dropped two of their last three, with the other defeat coming in a close game against Virginia last weekend.
But as fun as it might be to imagine Duke careening off into a tailspin, Coach K and company will probably be just fine. In a sport dominated by 19- and 20-year-olds, sometimes one team catches fire or the other comes out flat, leading to impossible-seeming upsets. The fact St. John’s can end an 11-game losing streak against No. 4 Duke and its stacked lineup of 5-star recruits is exactly what makes college basketball fun.