St. John’s has had a tough go this year. The Johnnies are still looking for their first Big East win of the season, but after Saturday’s 81-77 upset win over No. 4 Duke at Madison Square Garden, they’re breathing a little easier and smiling a bit wider. Here’s how the upset happened, in three steps:

1. Turnovers

One thing St. John’s does better than nearly any team in the country is turn its opponents over. The Red Storm forced 404 turnovers through 23 games heading into Saturday, just better than 17.5 per game, and against Duke they made sure the Blue Devils understood it wouldn’t be a comfortable day.

MARCH MADNESS SHOP
Duke turned the ball over 18 times by the time the game was over, and a dozen of those turnovers came in the first half, when Duke was burying 54 percent of its shots. Marvin Bagley & Co. could’ve turned those 20 minutes of very hot shooting, and a +10 rebounding advantage, into a huge lead … but instead, the Johnnies’ 12 forced turnovers and two blocks meant Duke led by just seven points at the break.

In the second half, St. John’s forced six turnovers, but Duke couldn’t find its shooting rhythm, and the comeback was on. Advantage, SJU.

2. Free throws

Another stat where St. John’s ranks in the top 100 in the country? Free throw percentage. 

The Johnnies entered Saturday shooting 71.3 percent from the line, 96th in the nation. SJU shot 80 percent in the second half, and despite a tough miss from Shamorie Ponds late in the game, the Johnnies knocked down 12 of 15, and Tariq Owens’ FT with three seconds to play officially put this one out of reach. 

(For the record, Owens also did this...)

On the other side of the floor, Duke missed nine free throws, including six in the second half. Bagley’s crucial miss in the final minute of the game meant, when Owens hit that final free throw, the Johnnies’ lead was an insurmountable four instead of an unlikely-but-doable three. Advantage, SJU.

3. Shamorie Ponds

This one was the most noticeable, and the most self-explanatory. Ponds poured in 33 points on 23 shots, burying four of eight from deep, while picking up seven rebounds, a team-best four steals and playing all 40 minutes.

It was just the latest highlight in what has been an exceptional year for the sophomore: Saturday was Ponds’ fifth game with 30+ points this season. 

Ponds’ trey with the shot clock winding down to put the Johnnies up four in the waning moments of the second half was magic: 

This finish was absolute artistry: 

There are only so many words you can use to describe what Ponds did for SJU. He was tremendous all afternoon. Advantage, SJU.

Adam Hermann has written for the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, Philadelphia magazine, SB Nation, and NBC Sports Philadelphia.

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