No. 8 Duke's latest victory seemed like anything but to coach Mike Krzyzewski.
The Blue Devils blew most of a 22-point lead in the second half before holding on to beat St. John's 83-76 on Saturday in a lackluster performance that their Hall of Fame coach compared to an AAU game.
"To me, it was a loss today for me," Krzyzewski said. "I didn't like today. And if my team doesn't like today, then we'll get better. If my team is OK about today, then we're going to fight a little bit, because I'm not going to change on this."
Mason Plumlee had 15 points and a career-high 17 rebounds. Ryan Kelly scored 16 points and Andre Dawkins added 14 for the Blue Devils (18-3), who shot just 30 percent in the second half while allowing the Red Storm and their five-freshman starting lineup to rally.
Moe Harkless had 30 points and 13 rebounds for St. John's (9-12), and he and D'Angelo Harrison made things tense in the final minute when each hit 3-pointers. Harrison's came with 20.7 seconds left and pulled the Red Storm to 79-75.
Assistant coach Mike Dunlap "preaches all the time about how he respects Duke, but he wants to beat them," Harkless said. "And he pretty much put it into everybody's head. So it was personal for us."
Kelly followed with two free throws to put Duke up by six. After Phil Greene missed in the lane for the Red Storm, God'sgift Achiuwa's free throw with 10.2 seconds remaining pulled them to 81-76.
Tyler Thornton iced it with two free throws with 8.3 seconds left, but nobody wearing a Duke uniform looked much like celebrating it. After the handshakes that followed the final horn, the players walked solemnly off the court.
"It seemed like every time we forced a missed shot, they got the offensive rebound toward the end of the game," Kelly said. "We didn't have, I think, the pride to say, 'We're getting a stop. We're getting this ball.' We weren't capable of doing that tonight, and that's why the game was so close."
Austin Rivers finished with 12 points for the Blue Devils, who claimed their 94th straight nonconference victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
That kept alive one impressive home-court winning streak in the first game since another streak was snapped emphatically. The Blue Devils had won 45 in a row at home before Florida State stunned them a week ago on a last-second 3-pointer.
"We did enough to win, which almost makes me sick to say that," Krzyzewski said. "I hate saying that we did enough to win. I mean, that's not who I am and not who this program is. You don't do 'enough to win.' We play really good basketball, and then hopefully we win. But that's the story. ... I'm not pleased with today one bit. One bit."
Harkless was 13 of 21 shooting while Harrison finished with 21 points and three 3-pointers for St. John's, the last non-Atlantic Coast Conference team to win at Cameron — in 2000.
The Red Storm thumped Duke 93-78 last year in 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 — and after a rocky start, they nearly rallied for an even bigger one.
"We're a team that's ascending, and maturing, and you can see it before your very eyes," Dunlap said.
One of the Red Storm's easiest baskets of the day wound up being the impetus for the run that seemed to put Duke in control. An incensed Krzyzewski called a time out after Harkless slipped free for a dunk down the lane to make it 23-20 midway through the first half.
The Blue Devils responded with a 20-3 run keyed by Dawkins that put them up by 20. The junior guard hit three 3-pointers over the Red Storm's 1-2-2 zone defense, both starting and ending the run by connecting from long range. His third 3 made it 43-23 with 1:45 before the break.
Duke led 54-32 on Rivers' free throw with 17:09 left before St. John's got hot, hitting three 3-pointers in roughly 3 minutes — two by Harrison — and otherwise scoring in just about any way it wanted while chipping away at the Blue Devils' big lead.
"They were just attacking, and first, we weren't running back, sprinting back, and they were getting stuff in transition," Kelly said. "They were hitting tough shots, and that's part of the game of basketball, and once their confidence got going, it kept picking up and guys were hitting shots. But we have to have pride."