Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
After Win Over Marquette, St. John’s Sets Sights on Stopping Duke, Coach K
NEW YORK — St. John’s secured a virtual must-win over Marquette at Madison Square Garden and now turns its attention to halting Coach K’s Garden Party.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski can earn his 1,000th career victory on Sunday against the Johnnies, but they want no part of facilitating that history.
“We’re not looking to give him his 1,000th win, we’re going to come to play our game,” St. John’s senior guard Phil Greene IV told SNY.tv after his team beat Marquette, 60-57, to improve to 13-5, 2-4 Big East.
“We’re going to play tough and we’re going to play our basketball. We going to defend our homecourt and this is a great challenge for us.”
St. John’s, which peaked at No. 15 in the AP Top 25 earlier this year, could obviously notch a huge resume win by upsetting presumed No. 1 draft pick Jahlil Okafor and No. 5 Duke (16-2).
The Blue Devils have won eight of the last nine meetings against St. John’s, although the Red Storm did run the Devils out of the Garden in Lavin’s first year (2011) by the count of 93-78. The teams haven’t met since 2012, when Duke won 83-76 at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“Come Sunday, St. John’s wants to win,” head coach Steve Lavin said. “We want to beat Duke. It’s less about Coach K, it’s more about we need to beat their basketball team. It’s our homecourt and we need a W, that’s the approach we’re taking.”
St. John’s entered the season with high expectations to make the NCAA Tournament for the second time during Lavin’s tenure (and first with players he recruited), but they came into the Marquette game having lost four of five Big East games.
It was yet another must-win in January.
They overcame a sub-par game from senior guard D’Angelo Harrison (11 points on 3-for-18 shooting), who is battling a calf injury, thanks to stellar play from Sir’Dominic Pointer and support from Greene IV, Rysheed Jordan and Chris Obekpa.
Pointer finished with an other-worldly line of 15 points, 12 rebounds, 6 blocks, 6 assists and 2 steals. Jordan added 15 points and 4 rebounds. Harrison scored 11 points, and Obekpa had 5 blocks.
“I thought Pointer had a magnificent game…He was phenomenal,” said Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski, a former Coach K lieutenant at Duke.
“You look at that Dom Pointer line, it’s pretty amazing,” Lavin said. “He’s a really special basketball player.”
The Johnnies simply couldn’t afford to fall to 1-5 in the Big East. At 2-4, they still have room to turn their season around and make the Big Dance as everyone expected they would coming into the season.
“Going into a good league, 1-5 is not good,” Pointer said. “We just needed a win to get back on the winning track.”
Now comes Duke and the 6-11 Okafor, who could be auditioning for a future gig with the Knicks in his first game at the Garden.
“He’s a big fella, he’s a great player,” said Greene IV, who, like Okafor, is from Chicago. “He’s a big key of what they do, and if we take him out we got a great chance of winning.”
Greene IV said the 6-9 Obekpa could be instrumental in containing Okafor.
“Chris, he’s the best shot-blocker in the country so he can use his length on him and just bother him a little with his speed,” Greene IV said.
While Obekpa could help himself with a big game against Okafor, St. John’s could really help itself by getting a resume win against Duke.
“If we’re able to win, that says some good things about our team,” Lavin told SNY’s Michelle Yu. “And if we lose, there will be things that we go back to the drawing board to improve.”
Lavin added that he had “great respect” for Coach K, who mentored him during college and counseled him when Lavin battled cancer.
“He’s been a friend, mentor and ally for over 28 years,” Lavin said of Coach K. “He was someone who gave me career advice when I was in college with hand-written letters. He’s given me phonecalls and I’ve spent time at Duke studying, yet we want to beat Duke.
“It’s not about Mike Krzyzewski or Steve Lavin, it’s about the Johnnies and the Blue Devils in a matchup and getting a W.”
Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.