Duke’s last non-conference loss came in front of a sellout crowd in the final weekend of last January against a Big East opponent.
Exactly one year later, the third-ranked Blue Devils face that set of circumstances Sunday at Madison Square Garden, where they take on a St. John’s team completing a grueling run of eight straight games against Top 25 teams.
Duke (19-1) has won 20 in a row outside the ACC since an 89-77 loss at then-No. 7 Georgetown on Jan. 30, 2010. That contest was played in front of a sellout crowd at the Verizon Center that featured President Barack Obama.
The Blue Devils have won seven straight over St. John’s (11-8). The Red Storm, whose top five scorers are seniors, have lost three straight overall and five of seven during this daunting stretch.
Duke will be the highest-ranked opponent they face in the eight-game span.
“Sunday will be another test for us to go out of conference and it will be sold out - Madison Square Garden,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “St. John’s has an older team. They didn’t play well in their last game, but they’ll be ready to play us.”
Duke has won four straight since its lone loss, 66-61 at Florida State on Jan. 12. Star guard Nolan Smith is averaging 24.5 points and 5.8 assists during the win streak, and he scored 28 in an 84-68 win over Boston College on Thursday.
“Nolan’s playing, he’s had an All-American year,” Krzyzewski said. “I mean tonight, he was great. Plus he’s playing against good people.”
The Blue Devils showcased their depth on a night when star forward Kyle Singler shot 5 of 14 and scored 14 points.
Seth Curry had 20 points and emerging sophomore forward Ryan Kelly added 14, although his streak of consecutive shots made ended at 18. Curry went 5 of 7 on 3-pointers after making four of his previous 19.
St. John’s coach Steve Lavin owns a 1-3 career mark against Duke from his days at UCLA from 1996-2003. Every Blue Devils team he faced was ranked sixth or higher, and he’s gotten used to facing Top 25 teams over the last month.
The Red Storm shot a season-low 33.9 percent in a 77-52 road loss to the No. 21 Hoyas on Wednesday. Lavin, however, is confident his team will regroup.
“You always continue to monitor every aspect of your team in terms of confidence,” he said. “Whether it’s confidence, if you have success, then you worry about complacency. If you struggle, then you’re worried about their confidence.
“At this point, just based on the time I’ve been with them, they’ve been really good about the way they’ve come back.”
St. John’s leading scorers Dwight Hardy and Justin Brownlee have struggled during the last three games. Hardy is averaging 9.0 points and Brownlee 7.7 in that span - both numbers 5.5 points below their season averages.
Duke has won five straight and 12 of its last 13 at MSG, where St. John’s is 4-1 this season. The Red Storm’s previous sellout there was for a 72-71 win over Duke in the 2002-03 season which marked their last victory in this series.