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St. John’s Crushed Duke Yesterday

St. John's tournament hopes had taken a hit in recent weeks with ugly, double-digit losses to Georgetown, Louisville, and Syracuse all within a five-game span. But yesterday's win over Duke will no doubt catch the attention of the selection committee. A rout of the defending national champion — one ranked third in the country — tends to have that effect.

Steve Lavin yet again has picked up his biggest win at St. John's coach, defeating Duke 93-78 yesterday in front of a sold-out Garden crowd. Such a win, as you'd imagine, led to the "St. John's is Taking Back NYC" headlines that have already popped up a few times this year, but what's most impressive is how thoroughly the Johnnies dominated this game.

By halftime, they'd built a 21-point lead. And thanks in part to a strong defensive effort by the Red Storm, Duke — which turned the ball over seventeen times — didn't hit its second three-pointer until three minutes remained in the game. And while the Blue Devils' offense struggled, the Red Storm's clicked: Dwight Hardy scored 26 points, and Justin Brownlee added 20 to go along with ten rebounds.

It's hard to remember St. John's playing a more complete game, against such a quality opponent, than this one, and it's equally hard to recall the last time they notched such a significant win. (The News suggests the win over UConn in the 2000 Big East Tournament title game — nearly eleven years ago.)

And thus ends a brutal eight-game stretch in which St. John's played eight consecutive ranked opponents. Their record in those games: A pretty respectable 3-5, with wins over Georgetown, Notre Dame, and now, most impressively, Duke. (A quick note from the Duke Schadenfreude department, for those who enjoyed the Duke loss as much as they did the St. John's win. Via ESPN: The fifteen-point loss was the Blue Devils' largest margin of defeat to an unranked team in the last fifteen seasons.)

Not that St. John's schedule gets much easier in February: They'll play three more games against teams currently ranked in the top ten. But they've proven this month that they can compete with some of the best teams in the country — which, for a team in the Big East that plays such teams on a regular basis, is important. Steve Lavin's been on the job for less than a year, and he's already got the kind of win that lands his team on the back page of a local tabloid. Next up: Finally, a game against an unranked opponent, Wednesday night at Carnesecca Arena versus Rutgers.

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Photo: Nick Laham/Getty Images