Finally A Breather

New York,N.Y. - Matchups with St. John's in recent years have given Duke a breather from grueling ACC competition. This season, the Blue Devils are in particular need of an easy win and a confidence boost.

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The ninth-ranked Blue Devils, coming off two straight ACC losses, look to win their sixth straight against the lowly Red Storm when the teams meet at Madison Square Garden on Thursday night.

Oddsmakers from Online Sportsbook have made the Duke -10.5 point spread favorites for Wednesday’s game against St Johns. Current College Basketball Public Betting Information shows that 54% of more than 217 bets for this game have been placed on the Duke -10.5.

Duke (20-5) has lost four of six and is in danger of dropping three in a row for the first time since ending the 2006-07 season with four straight losses. The Blue Devils' first three losses during their slump were against Top 25 ACC teams, but they fell 80-74 to unranked Boston College on Sunday in their latest setback.

Poor defense has plagued Duke over its last two games, with its opponents shooting 56.6 percent and totaling 181 points. The Blue Devils still lead the ACC in scoring defense, allowing 63.4 points per game.

"We're not playing very well on the defensive end of the court," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "And this is from a team that has been playing for the whole year really well defensively."

The Blue Devils, though, have had little trouble stopping the Red Storm (12-13) in the teams' last five matchups, holding them to 53.6 points per game and 37.2 percent shooting en route to winning by an average of 18.4 points.

These teams have met each of the last 11 seasons, and the Blue Devils lead the series 12-5. Most of the matchups have been late in the season, and recently Duke has been able to enjoy a break from ACC competition with cakewalks against a rebuilding St. John's program.

The Red Storm don't seem to be in any position to change their fortunes against the Blue Devils. They're again near the bottom of the Big East, averaging 55.7 points and shooting 35.4 percent in four straight losses.

Still, Krzyzewski is certain to have Duke working especially hard on defense in practice after allowing the Eagles to shoot 58.8 percent. Duke led 37-32 at the half but lost for the first time in 11 games against unranked teams.

"You can't mess around. If you have a team down you have to step on their throats," Blue Devils swingman Gerald Henderson said. "That's been a problem with us this year - we haven't approached leads like that, so we need to change that."

Henderson, averaging 15.4 points, had 20 versus BC.

Kyle Singler topped Duke with 25 points. The sophomore forward is averaging a team-high 16.4 points and 8.1 rebounds.

Singler had 16 points and six rebounds in last season's meeting with the Red Storm, an 86-56 Blue Devils win at home.

D.J. Kennedy was the only player who scored in double figures for St. John's in that contest, finishing with 16 points. The sophomore swingman has been the Red Storm's best all-around player, averaging 12.6 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3.4 assists.

Kennedy had nine points, 11 rebounds and seven assists against No. 10 Marquette on Saturday, but St. John's lost 73-59.

The Red Storm will finish with a losing record in Big East play for the seventh straight season, and the team is dealing with speculation about fifth-year coach Norm Roberts' future.

"We learn every game and just take it from there," said St. John's swingman Paris Horne, averaging a team-high 15.0 points. "We're going to get it together. It is just a matter of learning. As long as we stick together and never get down on ourselves and pick each other up game-by-game, we will be a lot better."

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Posted: 2/19/09 1:30AM ET

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