Zion Williamson and three other Duke starters weren’t in college a year ago when St. John’s knocked off Duke at Madison Square Garden.
The four freshmen were on the team Saturday when and received a stark reminder of what this non-conference series means to their coach, Mike Krzyzewski.
They took a cue from their fired-up coach and played key roles in a 91-61 Duke rout of the Red Storm at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Duke’s lead was a scant two points when Red Storm forward Marvin Clark hammered Duke freshman Cam Reddish on a dunk attempt. The officials used video review to rule it a flagrant-1 foul.
Krzyzewski didn’t need modern technology. He punched the air in anger multiple times, even turning toward his player on the bench to do so. During a timeout while the officials reviewed the play, Krzyzewski ripped off his sport court, a signal to all of his intensity.
“It got me pumped,” Williamson said, extending out the ‘u’ sound in pumped for effect. “He said `Are you going to let them to that to your brothers?’”
Krzyzewski never donned the jacket again during the game or even for his post-game press conference.
The Blue Devils certainly took the message from their coach, who made a point to mention postgame how St. John’s beat his team a year ago.
Duke separated from the Red Storm over the final three minutes of the first half, taking a 47-37 at intermission after its lead was just 35-33.
When the Blue Devils scored 16 consecutive points early in the second half, the lead ballooned to 25 points and St. John’s was done.
“I think we started off the game pretty well offensively, defensively and the things we talked about coming in that we had to do well we struggled,” St. John’s coach Chris Mullin said. “We had live ball turnovers that to me just turned the game, turned the whole atmosphere of the game.”
Williamson delivered another highlight with his 29 points. Reddish sank four 3-pointers and scored 16 points. Freshman RJ Barrett scored 15 points while grabbing 14 rebounds.
Impressive performances, all.
Yet the work Tre Jones did guarding St. John’s leading scorer Shamorie Ponds was equally as important.
Ponds scored 33 points a year ago when the Red Storm beat Duke 81-77 at Madison Square Garden. He entered Saturday’s game averaging 20.9 points.
Ponds scored 11 points, all the second half, while making just 3 of 11 shots on Saturday. He went scoreless in the first half, missing five shots and committing five turnovers.
Two of his turnovers were poor passes he threw while being hounded by Jones. Williamson intercepted them and converted the mistakes into slam dunks.
“Tre’s pressure on the ball was outstanding,” Krzyzewski said, who added that centers Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier were effective moving their feet to help with screens designed to free Ponds as well.
Before and after the game, Jones spoke in ‘aw, shucks’ tones about his defensive matchup with the Red Storm’s top scorer. On the court, though, Jones was serious, intense and highly successful.
“Same as every night,” Jones said. “Come out and try to set the tone defensively. He’s the best player and the key to their team so I knew that if I was able to play how he was playing early that would have a big effect on the game.”
Boy did it ever. It’s the kind of performance that’s become expected for Jones, even if he does it with nonchalance.
“He’s the same. He’s the same no matter what,” Krzyzewski said. “You would love to be able to coach him. He comes every day like that. He understands the value of his defense and
that it’s not a stat. But it is for the other team. It’s not a personal stat, but if he’s doing his job, then they’re going to shoot under 40 percent. Our guys will be able to do more. He’s as good as anybody in the country on defense.”
While St. John’s got the better of Duke a year ago, the Red Storm weren’t prepared to handle this Duke team armed with Jones and Williamson, Barrett and Reddish.
The way Duke is playing, no one in the country may be equipped to handle this roster and a fired-up Krzyzewski come NCAA tournament time.