QUEENS, N.Y. -
The St. John's men's basketball team (12-13, 3-10 BIG EAST) steps out of league play to meet Atlantic Coast Conference foe No. 9/9 Duke (20-5, 7-4 ACC) for the 11th-straight season. Thursday night's 2009 Aéropostale Classic at Madison Square Garden airs nationally at 7 p.m. on ESPN, with Brent Musburger and Hall of Fame coach Bob Knight calling the action, and Holly Rowe reporting from the sidelines. The contest will also be carried live on the official flagship of St. John's Basketball, Bloomberg Radio 1130-AM, with play-by-play announcer John Minko and critically-acclaimed analyst Tarik Turner on the call.
Prior to the game, St. John's head coach Norm Roberts and Duke mentor Mike Krzyzewski will take part in an on-court ceremony promoting Aéropostale's "Teens for Jeans" campaign, bringing awareness toward Aéro's ongoing program that benefits homeless youth.
Currently listed at No. 9/9 in the AP and ESPN/USA Today Coaches polls, Duke is the seventh ranked opponent of the season for the Red Storm. St. John's has defeated six Top 25 teams during the Roberts Era, including Notre Dame this season -- No. 7/10 Notre Dame on Jan. 3, 2009, No. 22/21 Notre Dame during the 2006-07 season (Jan. 23, 71-68), No. 9/9 Pitt (Jan. 21, 55-50) and No. 17/15 Louisville (Jan. 17, 68-56) in 2005-06, and No. 21 Pitt (Jan. 18, 65-62) and No. 17 NC State (Dec. 30, 63-45) in 2004-05. All six Top 25 victories to date have come on the Red Storm's home court at Madison Square Garden. The Red Storm has bested at least one Top 25 team in four of the last five years under Roberts, and is looking for its second stunner of 2008-09.
St. John's is 381-251 (.603) all-time at The World's Most Famous Arena, which has served as a home court for St. John's basketball for more than 76 years. St. John's played its first men's basketball game at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 19, 1931-- a 17-9 victory over CCNY. The Red Storm is 3-4 at MSG so far in 2008-09.
Last time out, Paris Horne scored 23 points in STJ's 73-59 loss at Marquette on Feb. 14.
St. John's and Duke square off for the 11th-straight season, having met each year since 1998-99. Duke leads 12-5 all-time in a series that dates to 1938. The Red Storm's last victory over the Blue Devils came on March 2, 2003, at The Garden. Marcus Hatten scored a game-high 29 points in the 72-71 St. John's triumph, bringing the Red Storm back for the win after trailing, 71-60, with 4:05 remaining in the game.
Sophomore Paris Horne played in all 30 contests as a freshman, averaging 5.1 points per game. Horne has transformed himself into the Red Storm's "go-to" player in 2008-09 -- he now leads the Red Storm in scoring at 15.0 ppg, and averages 17.0 ppg in league games, ranking ninth among all BIG EAST players. After missing this season's NIT opening-round game vs. Cornell with a right ankle sprain (Nov. 17), he bounced back to make his first 22 career starts in the last 22 contests, averaging 15.4 ppg and 3.2 rebounds as a starter, while connecting on 48.5 percent of his field goals and 37.6 percent of his 3-pointers. He is averaging 21.5 ppg on 51.7 percent shooting in his last two outings.
A consistent contributor on both ends of the floor, D.J. Kennedy is second on the squad in scoring at 12.6 ppg, and is the team's leading rebounder at 6.8 rpg (16th in the league). He has reached double figures in 16 of 25 games on the season, and has established new career highs in nearly all categories, including points (23), field goals (9), attempts (16), 3-point field goals (3), assists (7) and blocked shots (2). He is averaging 12.4 ppg in BIG EAST conference contests, and 6.5 rpg in league games.
Sean Evans, who steadily improved all season long as a freshman and drew starts in six contests, has started all 25 games in 2008-09 and is averaging 9.4 points, and his 6.6 rebounds per contest are second on the team and tied for 18th in the BIG EAST. He has set new career highs this season in field goals, attempts, rebounds, steals and minutes.
Now-masked sophomore forward Justin Burrell leads a deep crop of post returnees, coming off an outstanding freshman campaign in which he averaged 10.8 ppg and 5.9 rebounds. His efforts were good enough to earn BIG EAST All-Rookie honors and a spot on the NABC All-District second team. This season he picked up where he left off as a freshman, averaging 9.4 ppg and 4.5 rpg. He spent part of the summer training at the Tarkanian Big Man Camp in Las Vegas with NBA stars Jermaine O'Neal and Al Harrington, among others.
Malik Boothe has taken over as full-time floor general, and returned on Feb. 1 after missing nine games with an injured thumb. Boothe spent his entire offseason on campus - working on his jumpshot and bonding with teammates - and is proving to be a true STJ floor leader. He is averaging 7.3 ppg and 32.7 minutes per outing, and has 73 total assists (4.6 per game).
Rookie combo guard Quincy Roberts played a key reserve roll in the early part of the season, and earned a lion's share of the point guard minutes with Boothe recovering from injury. Roberts is averaging 5.5 ppg across his last eight appearances, to go along with 2.1 rpg and 1.3 apg in 22.3 minutes.
Rob Thomas, now a redshirt sophomore after joining the Red Storm in uniform midway through the 2007-08 season, is much-improved physically and is playing at 226 pounds. In his last 11 appearances, Thomas is averaging 7.9 ppg and 4.2 rpg while shooting 50.7 percent from the floor in 16.1 minutes. He missed four games with a strained groin before returning Feb. 1.
Sophomore center Dele Coker is still a tremendous 6-10 presence inside, but dropped close to 20 pounds in the offseason and has logged significant minutes in the post. The slimmed-down, 260-pound version of the Nigerian big man is playing with better quickness, and is averaging a team-best 1.3 blocks per game.
Anthony Mason Jr. played in only three games this season, as a MRI on Nov. 21 revealed a torn peroneal tendon in his right foot that required surgery. He averaged a team-best 14.0 ppg in 22 contests a season ago and will apply for a medical redshirt to play with the Red Storm in 2009-10.
St. John's returns to Queens to host local BIG EAST rival Seton Hall on Feb. 22 at Carnesecca Arena (5 p.m., SNY-TV).
The Series With Duke
St. John's and Duke have squared off in 10-straight seasons, since 1998-99. Duke leads 12-5 in the all-time series that dates to 1938. The series includes many hotly-contested matchups, including a 58-47 Blue Devil victory over Norm Roberts' Red Storm on Feb. 26, 2005 at the Garden, and a 70-57 Duke win three seasons ago at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Last season on Feb. 23, 2008, despite a hot start that saw the Red Storm leading 7-0 in the opening minutes and 16-15 with 10:40 to play in the first half, St. John's eventually fell on the road to then-No. 5/4 Duke, 86-56, at Cameron Indoor Stadium. D.J. Kennedy had a team-leading 16 points, and Sean Evans and Paris Horne each contributed nine points in the loss.
St. John's is 1-4 since 1999 in series games played at The Garden, and at least two of those affairs are considered by many to be "classics."
On Jan. 24, 1999, in an epic contest with No. 2-ranked Duke, St. John's and then-junior Bootsy Thornton burst onto the national spotlight by taking the Blue Devils to overtime before losing at MSG, 92-88. Thornton would pour in 40 points and star in a game that will long be remembered by many as "one of the best ever played at Madison Square Garden."
St. John's last victory over Duke came on March 2, 2003, at Madison Square Garden. Inspired by a sellout crowd and a national television audience, Marcus Hatten scored a game-high 29 points to lift St. John's to a stunning upset of Duke, 72-71, at the World's Most Famous Arena. The Red Storm trailed by 11 points, 71-60, with 4:05 remaining and used a 12-0 run to come back for the win.
St. John's did not fare as well on Feb. 25, 2007, in the last meeting between the two schools at The Garden. Lamont Hamilton led St. John's with 17 points, but the Red Storm fell to visiting and 18th-ranked Duke, 67-50. A late surge by the Red Storm got the home team within 12 points in the second half, as St. John's outscored the Blue Devils in the second period, 40-33. St. John's was much better from the field in the second stanza, hitting at a 50.0 percent clip (14-of-28). The Red Storm finished the game shooting 34 percent from the field after going 3-for-22 in the first half. Anthony Mason Jr. added 13 points and seven rebounds, while Avery Patterson and Eugene Lawrence netted seven and six, respectively.
Duke holds a 3-1 all-time record against the Red Storm at Cameron Indoor Stadium, with St. John's scoring its lone road victory over the Blue Devils nine meetings ago.
On Feb. 26, 2000, a raucous crowd welcomed the Red Storm to Cameron Indoor for a battle against then No. 2 Duke. Marvis "Bootsy" Thornton scored 22 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to lead five St. John's players in double-figures as the Red Storm edged the Blue Devils, 83-82. Lavor Postell added 16 and Erick Barkley netted 14. This victory would also be a part of NCAA lore, as St. John's became the first team in NCAA history to defeat the national champion and runner-up from the previous season (Connecticut), in a seven-day span.