Starting five freshman for the second-straight game and playing against a ranked opponent for the eighth time this season, St. John's cut a 22-point second half deficit down to four with less than a minute to play before No. 8 Duke held on for an 83-76 win at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Saturday.
Moe Harkless registered his second-career 30-point game, finishing with 30 points and 13 rebounds for his second-straight double-double and the eighth of his career. D'Angelo Harrison recorded his sixth 20-point effort this year, helping pace St. John's (9-12) with a 21-point afternoon.
Mason Plumlee had 15 points and a career-high 17 rebounds and Ryan Kelly added 16 points to lead four players in double-figures for Duke (18-3), which won its 94th-consecutive non-conference game at home.
"I think this was a very valuable lesson for a young team," said St. John's assistant coach Mike Dunlap. "We have to be better than 11-for-21 from the line, make better decisions sometimes in transition, and avoid some ill-advised shots that can lead to momentum shifts.
"But our guys are maturing quickly," he added. "The Villanova game was a heck of a game, we get a tremendous win vs. West Virginia, and then put together this second half today. This team is maturing, ascending. You can see it before your very eyes."
The Red Storm thumped Duke 93-78 last year at Madison Square Garden. None of the current players saw the court in that game, and the coach who orchestrated that beating - Steve Lavin - has been out for much of the season while recovering from prostate cancer surgery.
The new-look team was coming off one of its biggest victories without him, a 16-point win over West Virginia in which they had 50 points in the paint in a 78-62 victory.
The West Virginia game was believed to be the first time St. John's started five freshmen since the 1927-28 season with the team that went on to be known as “The Wonder Five.” Freshmen were not eligible for varsity competition from the early 1950s until 1972.
It wasn't the first time West Virginia coach Bob Huggins went against an all-freshmen starting lineup.
“Unfortunately in 1992 I saw the Fab Five,” he said of Michigan's famed freshmen class that beat his Cincinnati team 76-72 in the national semifinals. “I didn't like that much. I didn't like this a whole lot more. They're talented.”
“We're getting better every game,” Moe Harkless said. “You can see it the way we played. Everybody did their job. It was a great collective effort.”