QUEENS, N.Y. -
Two of the storied programs in collegiate basketball history clash on the hardwood on Saturday as the St. John's men's basketball team -- receiving votes in both the Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today Coaches college basketball polls and 6-0 to open its schedule for the first time since the 1994-95 season -- travels to No. 6/5 Duke of the ACC. Tip-off from Cameron Indoor Stadium is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. in a contest which will be televised live across the nation on ESPN2, with announcers Dave O'Brien and Jay Bilas. The matchup will also be streamed via ESPN360.com. On the airwaves, the Red Storm's matchup against the Blue Devils can be heard in the New York City area on the official flagship of St. John's Basketball, Bloomberg Radio 1130-AM, with veteran play-by-play announcer John Minko and analyst Tarik Turner on the call. Live in-game updates will be provided via Twitter by following @STJ_Basketball (www.twitter.com/STJ_Basketball) and @Peter_R_Casey (www.twitter.com/Peter_R_Casey).
Saturday's matchup features two of the NCAA's all-time most-celebrated collegiate basketball programs. Duke is the fourth-winningest all-time program with 1,883 victories; St. John's is seventh with 1,692. Duke has the sixth-best winning percentage all-time at .697; St. John's is ninth at .660. The two schools have 59 NCAA Tournament appearances between them (Duke 33, 7th; STJ 26, T-20th) in 206 combined seasons on the hardwood (Duke 104, STJ 102).
The last time St. John's opened a season at 6-0 or better was in 1994-95, when head coach Brian Mahoney led the Red Storm to a seven-game streak to start the year. St. John's has two win streaks of five or better during the Norm Roberts Era, one seven-game stretch that began four games into 2008-09 and one seven-gamer early in the 2006-07 season.
Including St. John's win over St. Bonaventure in Rochester, N.Y., this season (Nov. 17, 2009), the Red Storm owns nine road victories since the dawn of the Norm Roberts Era, with one this season, one in 2008-09 and three coming in the 2007-08 season.
St. John's and Duke square off for the 12th-straight season, having met each year since 1998-99, with the series set to continue until 2014. Duke leads 13-5 in the all-time series and is 1-4 at home. The Red Storm's last victory over the Blue Devils came on March 2, 2003, at Madison Square Garden. St. John's only win at Cameron in the series was over No. 2 Duke on Feb. 26, 2000. With the 83-82 victory, STJ became the first team in NCAA history to defeat the national champion and national runner up from the previous season, having beaten UConn 79-64 at The Garden five days earlier, on Feb. 21. Duke has won a national-leading 72 non-conference games at home since that loss to the Red Storm.
Junior guard Paris Horne, who netted a team-best 14.6 ppg last season, elevated his game in conference play to score at a 16.1 ppg clip, and also led St. John's in 3-point shooting (.335, 61-of-182) and steals (53). Horne, who had improved his scoring average by 9.5 ppg from his freshman to sophomore years, was projected as the sixth man before filling a vacant starting role due to injuries in 2008-09. Now a go to scorer and one of the Red Storm's toughest perimeter defenders, the 2009 first team All-Met selection by the Metropolitan Basketball Writers' Association (MBWA) will be relied upon to contribute even more this season.
Dynamic junior D.J. Kennedy will see plenty of time on the perimeter after leading the Red Storm last season in minutes played (34.6 per game), free throws made (187), free throws attempted (187) and defensive rebounds (167, 4.9 per game), and also being counted among the team leaders in points (second, 441), scoring average (third, 13.0 ppg), rebounds (second, 226, 6.6 per game), steals (second, 52), assists (second, 101, 3.0 per game), field goals made (third, 134), field goals attempted (second, 333), 3-point percentage (third, .333), 3-pointers made (second, 36), 3-pointers attempted (second, 108) and free throw percentage (third, .733). Kennedy's efforts earned him a first team All-Met nod from the MBWA in 2008-09.
Bruising forward and returning rebounding leader Sean Evans (10.3 points, 7.1 rebounds per game) has established himself among the Red Storm's most consistent performers, as one of two St. John's players to start each game of the 2008-09 season. Evans, who recorded nine double-doubles a year ago, has refined his game from one of brute force to one where his basketball skill has really begun to shine through.
Junior Justin Burrell returns to his familiar position in the low post as a projected starter for a third-straight season. The big man, who was a member of the BIG EAST's All-Rookie team in 2007-08, averaged 9.0 ppg and 4.5 rpg despite playing most of the 2008-09 season while wearing a mask to protect three hairline facial fractures.
Lightning-quick and Queens-tough, junior Malik Boothe returns as the incumbent floor general after leading the Red Storm with 4.4 assists per game, and totaling a team-high 111 assists, despite missing nine games with torn thumb ligaments last season. Boothe, who also contributed 6.4 points per game and 3.1 rebounds, averaged 33.8 minutes per game and was forced into playing 36.5 minutes during league contests. He should get some relief with St. John's new "double-Malik" point guard system with the addition of promising local rookie Malik Stith.
Lone sophomore Quincy Roberts returns to his natural position at shooting guard after making nine starts at the point, spelling Boothe during his recovery. Roberts averaged 5.0 ppg as a freshman, and is comfortable firing from long distance or using his athleticism to drive the lane and slam one down.
All of New York is buzzing about the addition of former John F. Kennedy standout scorer, playground legend and Indian Hills C.C. (Iowa) all-star Dwight Hardy. Dynamic and bouncy, Hardy's reputation as a prolific long-range shooter is only the tip of the iceberg, as the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) all-region selection has shown outstanding defensive skills and the ability to score off the dribble, as he amassed more than 1,000 points in two years of JUCO ball.
Another contributor at the small forward and power forward positions will be versatile JUCO forward Justin Brownlee. Brownlee was a key contributor for his Chipola College squad that spent nine weeks ranked as the No. 1 junior college program in the country last season, and was called "the steal out of all of junior college" by one JUCO scouting and recruiting service.
Redshirt senior Anthony Mason Jr. (hamstring) and redshirt junior Rob Thomas (groin) both suffered injuries during the preseason and are expected back on the court in mid-to-late December.
STJ faces Georgia as part of a DirecTV SEC/BIG EAST Invitational doubleheader at The Garden on Wednesday, Dec. 9 (7 p.m., ESPN2).
The Series With Duke
St. John's and Duke have squared off in 11-straight seasons, since 1998-99. Duke leads 13-5 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, a 70-57 Duke win three seasons ago at Cameron Indoor Stadium and last season's 76-69 Devil victory in NYC.
After injuring his hip flexor in practice that week, then-sophomore D.J. Kennedy's ability to take the floor in the Feb. 19, 2009, night's game against No. 9/9 Duke was looking improbable. But if there was any question about whether he'd be able to perform against STJ's most frequently-faced ACC rival, someone must have forgotten to tell Kennedy. The second-year small forward started the ballgame and played nearly all 40 minutes, scoring a game-high 20 points against the Blue Devils. Kennedy's gritty effort was not enough however - and neither was the Red Storm's rebounding advantage, lead in fast break points, and points in the paint - as St. John's fell in a 76-69 slugfest at Madison Square Garden. Paris Horne, then St. John's leading scorer with a 15.0 average, was coming off a 23-point effort that included a career-high six 3-pointers against Marquette. He was held to seven points in a foul-plagued 20 minutes, one of only eight times last season he didn't reach double figures.
Duke holds a 4-1 all-time record against the Red Storm at Cameron Indoor Stadium, with St. John's scoring its lone road victory over the Blue Devils 10 meetings ago. The Blue Devils have now won 72-straight non-conference games at Cameron, last losing to an upstart St. John's team. 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.
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. Kennedy had a team-leading 16 points, and Horne and Sean Evans 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.
Toppling The Top 25
With a 71-65 victory over No. 7/10 Notre Dame on Jan. 3, 2009, St. John's has now defeated six teams ranked in the Top 25 during the Norm Roberts Era.
ST. JOHN'S 71, NO. 7/10 Notre Dame 65 -- Jan. 3, 2009 -- STJ used a total team effort in its Jan. 3 victory over No. 7/10 Notre Dame at Madison Square Garden. Sophomore D.J. Kennedy recorded his fourth double-double of the season with 20 points and 10 boards (to go along with four assists), while Paris Horne scored 14 points and held Fighting Irish sharpshooter Kyle McAlarney in check to take home BIG EAST and MBWA Honor Roll accolades. Playing in his third game while wearing a protective face shield, big man Justin Burrell bullied his way to 18 points and six boards, while Rob Thomas provided a spark off the bench with 10 points and five boards (three offensive) in 18 minutes. St. John's shot 44.6 percent from the floor and 45.5 percent from long-distance in the win.
ST. JOHN'S 71, NO. 22/21 Notre Dame 68 -- Jan. 23, 2007 -- St. John's had many heroes in its win over Notre Dame, beginning with senior Wooden and Naismith Award candidate Lamont Hamilton, who posted a 23-point, 12-rebound effort -- the 17th double-double of his career and second in two games. Freshman Larry Wright capped off a game in which he posted then-career-highs in points (11), field goals (4-of-6), 3-pointers (3-of-4), steals (2) and minutes played (28) by drilling the winning long-range bucket with 10.4 second to play. Junior captain Eugene Lawrence contributed 13 points, seven assists and four boards, while Anthony Mason Jr. added nine and eight.
ST. JOHN'S 55, NO. 9/9 PITT 50 -- Jan. 21, 2006 -- Against Pittsburgh at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 21, 2006, St. John's raced out to a 14-0 advantage and showed gritty defense and poise down the stretch to seal a 55-50 victory. Junior big man Hamilton tied a career-high with 24 points and added eight rebounds (six offensive) in the win. Lawrence scored 10 with five boards and four assists. That victory came on a day in which St. John's celebrated the legendary contributions of 10 individuals to its men's basketball program by conferring `Basketball Legacy Honors' upon them and hanging permanent banners in Madison Square Garden to commemorate their tremendous athletic achievements.
ST. JOHN'S 68, NO. 17/15 LOUISVILLE 56 -- Jan. 17, 2006 -- The Red Storm stunned No. 17/15 Louisville on Jan. 17, 2006, 68-56, using a total team effort by the time the final buzzer sounded. Lawrence scored the team's first 12 points en route to his game and then career-high 18. Hamilton scored 11 of his 15 and Mason Jr. contributed 12 of his 14 points in the second half. Mason Jr. completed his first career-double double, adding 11 rebounds (five offensive).
ST. JOHN'S 65, NO. 21 PITT 62 -- Jan. 18, 2005 -- Daryll Hill scored 26 points, including three free throws in the final 25 seconds, and St. John's downed a ranked opponent with a 65-62 victory over No. 21 Pittsburgh on January 18. Hill only had three points over the final 15 minutes but they were enough to give the Red Storm the victory. St. John's opened the second half with a 16-6 run to take a 52-41 lead with 13:37 to play. Hamilton broke a STJ field goal drought with 5:15 to play, tying it at 56. Carl Krauser made two free throws with 1:39 to go to give Pittsburgh a 62-59 lead, and the Red Storm tied it for the last time on a three-point play by Dexter Gray with 48 seconds left.
ST. JOHN'S 63, NO. 17 NC STATE 45 -- Dec. 30, 2004 -- The Red Storm had fans thinking of the glory days on Dec. 30, 2004, with a 63-45 thrashing of No. 17 NC State in the championship game of the Holiday Festival. It was St. John's 39th appearance in the annual tournament, and this was the 13th title -- the last coming in 1996. The Red Storm led 27-10 at halftime and pulled away by holding the Wolfpack without a field goal for a 14-minute stretch. Hill had 19 points for the Red Storm and was selected the tournament's MVP, while Lawrence had 10 points and seven rebounds. The game marked the Red Storm's first win over a ranked team since a 72-71 victory over No. 6 Duke on March 2, 2003, at Madison Square Garden.