Preview: Duke (20-4) vs. St. John's

After racing to a 10-4 conference mark, the Blue Devils return to action Saturday afternoon in New York at Madison Square Garden for a tilt with the St. John's Red Storm. The annual out of conference showdown has proven to be a landmine game in recent years as SJU is always ready to play against Duke. <i>TDD</i> runs down the match up.

As if the Blue Devils hadn't suffered enough from the injury bug this season, doctors found that junior guard Sean Dockery had torn his MCL during an exam Thursday, which will sideline the Duke starter until at least the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Dockery, who is considered Duke's top on the ball defender, will be missed for not only his defensive prowess, but also his ability to handle the ball and run the offense. Without him, Duke will likely look to freshman DeMarcus Nelson to step in and play a more significant role. Nelson's the better offensive player, and his defense has been very good at times, though he has gotten lost on the defensive end a few times, as freshmen tend to do.

One spot where Duke will have a clear advantage is in the paint where Shelden Williams should have the potential for a big afternoon. St. John's has no one on the roster who can match Williams' power on the boards or when he wants to go to the basket with power. The game will also provide a forum for junior enigma Shavlik Randolph to get some touches and chances to score in the paint.

While SJU has struggled for much of the season, they are improving and have played a number of highly ranked Big East powers tough. Coming off a 6-21 campaign a year ago, the Red Storm had no where to go but up and have taken a "nothing to lose" attitude when it comes to strategy. That means Duke will need to execute on the offensive end and hope to put the game out of reach midway through the second half in hopes of resting J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams, both of whom are logging huge minutes.

Meet the Red Storm

C- Lamont Hamilton (6'9, 240, SO) – Showed some flashes of his potential early on as a freshman before failing to take care of business in the classroom and being removed from the team for the rest of the season. A big body who can play in the middle or slide over to power forward and hit mid-range jumpers. He can even hit a perimeter attempt if given the chance (33%).

Hamilton has averaged 13 points and eight rebounds on the season. Defensively he's an above average shot blocker, but has run into foul trouble against some of the conference's better front lines. On the season he is shooting 50% from the field, but just 58% from the free throw line.

F- Dexter Gray (6'6, 215, FR) – As has been the case with many Red Storm teams in the past, this year's group relies heavily on guard play. With several dynamite little scorers running around this season, Gray has been moved from his typical wing position to the role of under-sized power forward. He's filled in admirably, and has put up consistent numbers throughout the year as a fourth of fifth offensive option. Not a threat to shoot from the perimeter, Gray makes a living off dribble drives and garbage buckets while rebounding from the weakside.

G- Cedric Jackson (6'2, 190, FR) – Another freshman who has stepped in and earned a starting spot late in the season, Jackson is a strong bodied guard who has found his niche rebounding and attacking the rim. Against Syracuse he was the team's leading glass cleaner, pulling in eight boards, marking the sixth time he's pulled in five or more rebounds this year.

While Jackson isn't considered your prototypical scoring guard, he is a capable driver and finisher, but his jump shot hasn't been consistent throughout the season (35% FG) and he's just a 25% perimeter shooter, and a 65% free throw shooter. Until he gets some polish on his shooting, Jackson is content to score off the dribble and via one on one match ups. Defensively he's improving each game out, and is leading the team in steals at 1.8 per contest.

G- Eugene Lawrence (5'11, 208, FR) – Played his senior season alongside Sebastin Telfair at Lincoln High last season, swapping guard positions frequently with his NBA bound teammate. That experience prepared him well for the NCAA game where he once again switches between point and scoring guard on a possession by possession basis. At the collegiate level he's been a better point man and distributor than scorer, but has enough scoring pop to keep defenses honest if not watched.

A streaky jump shooter, Lawrence has shot just 27% from the perimeter this year, and has hit just seven of his last 30 three point attempts. Given his strong frame, he's just as happy to get to the rim and draw contact, and despite his 5'11 stature, has recorded seven games of five rebounds or more, all while leading the team with a 4.0 assists per game average. Defensively he's able to stay in front of his opponents consistently but has been known to reach here and there.

G- Daryll Hill (5'10, 163, JR) – With all the turnover in the roster in the offseason, Hill stuck around and entered the 2005 season as the team's unquestioned leader. Nicknamed "Showtime", Hill is another in a long line of flashy New York City guards making their mark on the NCAA at SJU. Hill has the green light to shoot on every possession, and he's not afraid to pull the trigger.

Through 24 games played the junior is averaging 17 shots per contest, converting on 43% of those attempts for a team leading 20.5 points per game average. A terrific ball handler who can get past most defenders with a variety of one on one moves, what sets Hill apart from his teammates is his ability to knock down jump shots from anywhere. He leads the team with a 38% shooting clip from three point range, and has improved his free throw shooting to 78% on the season. He's also his team's work horse, averaging 38 minutes per game, while playing the entire 40 minutes 12 times including a pair of 160 straight minute runs (four games of 40 minutes straight).

The Reserves:

The front court is bolstered by Ryan Williams (6'5, 220, JR), another combo forward who is probably undersized to play in the paint, but can make up for that with good athleticism and a muscular frame. While not a good shooter, Williams has proven to be a good rebounder (4.6 per game) and makes a living with stick-backs and close looks. Depending on the opponent, Phil Missere (6'8, 200, SR) usually sees time and is built in the mold of Florida State's Anthony Richardson with a long and wirery frame and decent athleticism. Though not a very polished offensive player, he can rebound and block shots at a level that gets him off the pine. Coming into the season, Mohammed Diakite (6'10, 235, SR) was expected to finally have a breakout season. However his limited mobility and the concentration on guard play has moved him back to the bench. An excellent shot blocker, Diakite has struggled with his offensive game and with the physical nature of bigger opponents, leaving him scoreless on the season.

Game Notes:
courtesy of Duke Sports Information

Duke (20-4, 10-4 ACC), ranked seventh in the nation by the AP and 10th by ESPN/USA Today, faces St. John's (9-15, 3-11) on Saturday at Madison Square Garden. Tipoff is set for 1:00 PM.

This will mark the 14th meeting between Duke and St. John's with the Blue Devils holding an 8-5 series advantage. After dropping the first three games in the series vs. St. John's, Duke has won eight of the past 10 contests. Under Mike Krzyzewski, Duke is 8-2 vs. St. John's.

The game will be televised nationally on ABC with Brent Musberger (play-by-play), Steve Lavin (color) and Doris Burke (sideline) calling the action.

- Duke is making its second trip to Madison Square Garden this season. The Blue Devils defeated Oklahoma, 78-67, in front of a sellout crowd on Dec. 18

- Duke plays its final non-conference game of the regular season vs. St. John's. Under Coach K, Duke is 355-56 vs. non-ACC foes, including a 10-0 record this season

- Duke snapped a three-game road losing streak with a 60-56 win on Feb. 23 at Georgia Tech. Since the 1997-98 season, Duke is 131-30 outside of Cameron Indoor Stadium

Injury Report:

- Junior guard Sean Dockery suffered a torn MCL in his right knee on Feb. 23 at Georgia Tech and is out indefinitely for the Blue Devils


St. John's- 70

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