Section 17: Toppled by the Storm

The jump ball was one of the few competitive moments of the loss to St. John's. (Courtesy of DukeBluePlanet.com)

Well, that was eye-opening.

In Duke’s first trip to the tri-state area this season, in New Jersey’s Meadowlands, the team was freakishly robbed of Kyrie Irving. Sunday in New York’s Madison Square Garden, up against a hungry St. John’s team and its rabid crowd, the Blue Devils were relieved of something else—their dignity.

Anyone watching the game—one of the few matchups on Sunday after Saturday’s packed slate— saw the Johnnies thoroughly “undress” Duke (to use the phrase of commentator Verne Lundquist). The sublime Clark Kellogg, who called most of Duke’s games in the 2010 NCAA Tournament, was thoroughly impressed  by the offensive and defensive efficiency of a Red Storm team that was coming off a blowout loss at Georgetown four days ago. The college basketball Twitterati—including our team of tweeters—was stunned by Duke’s lethargy. How did the ACC’s best get housed by the Big East’s eleventh ranked squad?

Much was exposed about the post-Irving Blue Devils. Here are some of my observations from a day of hair-pulling and disbelief.

  • Nolan and Kyle are not enough to win against non-ACC opponents. Our guard depth of Curry, Dawkins and Thornton was overshadowed by the gritty defense and physicality of the more experienced, if less talented, St. John’s perimeter rotation. The balance of the Red Storm attack (5 players in double figures) had its counterpoint in the Blue Devils: Nolan and Kyle had 17 of our 26 field goals, and many of the other ones were forgettable.
  • If post play continues to be non-existent, we are bound for more tight games if our outside shooting is cold. I have this dance I do now called “The Plumlee Lament” where I shake my fists, flail my legs and knock over any drinks placed nearby. Miles and Mason have yet to demonstrate a go-to post move, and combined for just 6 points and 6 boards. The living room was a mess.
  • The Garden is “our house,” except when it’s St. John’s. One was hard-pressed to pick out any of the well-dressed Duke businessmen that normally sit front row for our games in New York. Instead, hordes of SJU students packed the end zones and the place erupted over our missed shots as much at the Johnnies’ effortless buckets. St. John’s is for real in this building; they’ve already beaten Georgetown and Notre Dame at home, and both of those squads are in the top 15. But today’s performance was easily Coach Lavin’s first real assertion that he’s here to win, and the program is firmly on the upswing in its own city. With a historically populous recruiting class joining next year, the Johnnies might even make noise in beastly Big East as well.
  • The full court press was not our friend. As Duke tried to chip away at the 20 point margin in the final ten minutes, every advance was negated by a St. John’s guard weaving through our “pressure” and getting easy floaters or layups. Exhaustion probably played a role in this, as K kept the starters in for most of the game. With all of the heart of Nolan making tough jumpers late in games, it won’t matter if we don’t get back on defense.
  • Without making too many long-term, swan song-like predictions, even a conservative critic would place this game as a triumph for the Big East and a huge flop for the ACC. By now John Swofford might be thinking about football season again (yikes).

If there’s anything good to take away from this, getting plastered pissed our guys off. The two double technicals—Smith and Thornton picked ours up—showed that the boys still wanted to fight to make the result somewhat respectable (15 is better than 25, after all). Exactly a year ago, Duke suffered a similar fate on the road at Georgetown, as the ever contextual Ben Cohen pointed out on his Twitter. That loss was at least as ugly as this one, but it also refocused the team, acting as a rallying point for an eventual championship run. Another run of that sort is predicated upon, among other things, the recovery of our favorite toe in the world. But as things stand, we’re still 19-2, and will certainly improve as this topsy turvy conference season continues.

For now though, this one stings. I give massive props to St. John’s, and trust that Coach will instill the fear of God in the hearts of the good guys before we venture into College Park in a few days.

Maybe some Marvin can cheer you up? I heard he was a Duke fan.