NEW YORK—Duke didn’t see this one coming.
The Blue Devils, a perennial ACC power, were ranked 4th in this week’s AP Top 25 poll. And they were playing a St. John’s team that had not won since Dec. 20 and were winless in 11 Big East games.
But 6-1 sophomore guard Shamorie Ponds, a former Brooklyn Jefferson star who stayed in his back yard, proved there is still magic in the Garden, going off for 33 points yesterday as the Red Storm made up a seven-point halftime deficit to stun Duke, 81-77, before a sellout crowd of 19,821 that included 93-year old coaching icon Lou Carnesecca in what is normally the Blue Devils’ home away from home.
Bashir Ahmed added 19 points and Tari Owens had 17 for the Red Storm (11-13), who had enough fight to hold off a Duke team with four one and done players, holding senior guard Grayson Allen to one field goal and limiting the effectiveness of spectacular 6-11 Marvin Bagley III after he picked up his fourth personal foul in the second half.
“We would have taken a win if it was in an empty gym,’’ St. John’s coach Chris Mullin said. “Thank god January is over.’’
St. John’s was playing the second of three straight games against top-six opponents in the span of nine days. Next up for the Storm is a visit to No. 1 Villanova Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. “We are happy, but we can’t stop here. We need to keep pushing,’’ Ponds said. “This is big to get a win on the board. We can start fresh.’’
The game was played in honor of the late Howard Garfinkel, the godfather of grass roots basketball who changed college basketball recruiting with his scouting service in the 1960 and fabled Five-Star camp, which he ran from 1966 through 2008 and provided thousands of scholarship offers for Division I prospect. Five-Star also served as a launching pad for future NBA Hall of Fame players like Michael Jordan, Moses Malone, Patrick Ewing, Alonzo Mourning and Chris Mullin when they were high school and attracted coaches from across the country to the outdoor courts in the Poconos.
Garfinkel, who is enshrined in the college basketball Hall of Fame, became close with Duke Hall of Fame coach Mike Krzyzewski before he died in May of 2016. Coach K awarded him a 2015 national championship ring that is buried in the casket with him.
Fox turned this nationally televised game into a huge testimonial for Garfinkel with constant video testimonials from current coaches on the scoreboard. The Garden also did its part, donating $10,000 to the Howard Garfinkel Educational Foundation. The logo at center court read “The Garf.’’
But Ponds, who scored a combined 68 points in close losses to Villanova and Xavier at the Garden and Carnesecca Arena, added his own special touch, shooting 12 for 23, adding seven rebounds and three assists in an iron man 40 minutes, making big shots and doing the heavy lifting when the game was on the line. “Ponds was as good a guard offensively as we’ve played against,’’ Krzyzewski admitted. “We came in prepared.’’
No one on Duke (19-4) could prepare for what Ponds did in the final minute. With St. John’s clinging to a 74-73 lead with 43 seconds left and just five seconds left on the shot clock, Mullin called time out. Everyone in the building knew where the ball was going. Ponds made the most important shot of the game when he curled off a screen and nailed a three-point jumper as the shot clock expired to send the Red Storm up, 77-73, setting the stage for the the Red Storm to close out the biggest win of the Mullin era.
“The Garden was rockin’ no question,’’ said Mullin, who was recruited by Krzyzewski out of Brooklyn’s Xavierian High School in 1981 but signed with St. John’s. “Duke has that brand. They bring ‘em in . . . I was glad our guys stepped up not only to the challenge, but on the biggest stage.’’
This has been a chaotic weekend in major college basketball with Duke, fifth-ranked Kansas Arizona and Kentucky all losing to unranked teams Saturday and third ranked Purdue barely escaping Rutgers, 76-74, at the RAC.
Duke, which committed 18 turnovers, was constantly outhustled and never played with any sense of urgency until it was too late, will certainly remember the feeling after losing its second game in eight days.
“We got what we deserved,’’ Krzyzewski said. “We weren’t able to knock them out after we lost the first 12 rounds of a 15-round fight.
“I thought they made us look bad, but we made ourselves look bad. We did not play basketball the first 32 minutes worthy of our program. And we had blank faces, we didn’t talk, we were like five individuals out there, and it was disgusting. I do not know why. I can tell you, that’s not the group I’ve coached all year, and they were a very frustrating group to coach today because they didn’t respond to anything until the final eight minutes, and that’s unacceptable.’’