'Excited' Alexis Jones leads Duke women's basketball to first-round win
The large Hampton fan base at Cameron Indoor Stadium erupted in cheers when the 15th-seeded Lady Pirates—gunning for a first-round upset against second-seeded Duke—scored the game’s opening bucket on an easy lay-in. When Alexis Jones scored on her first shot of the day to tie the game, she turned to the home crowd and leapt up in the air to let the opposing crowd know that they were in her house.
Jones’ leap was a telling sign of her excitement as she entered the Big Dance for the first time. But for much of her first NCAA tournament game, she did not look like a freshman point guard—she looked like a seasoned veteran.
Finishing just short of a triple-double with 11 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds, Jones helped the Blue Devils survive Hampton’s pressure and control the tempo, a role that should be increasingly vital as the tournament progresses.
“Lex was strong as can be,” Duke head coach Joanne P. McCallie said. “She was out there directing traffic. She was running plays when needed. She was creating when needed. She’s a seasoned guard.”
After opening up the scoring for Duke, Jones pushed the pace on offense to try to seize control of the game.
She connected twice with Blue Devil center Elizabeth Williams—once on a slick over-the-shoulder pass as she slashed through the lane—in the first four minutes to keep the team’s energy level high.
“I was really excited about my first March Madness game today,” Jones said. “I just felt the energy on the court, so I was really excited about today’s game.”
Although Jones orchestrated Duke’s offense, she also had a large impact on the defensive end as well. She recorded three first-half steals and picked up a block in the second half.
Her intensity carried over even when she missed. Following up her own missed layup, Jones dove to the floor for the rebound and earned Duke the ball back on a jump ball.
At times though, Jones’ intensity got the best of her—in addition to filling the stat sheet, the freshman recorded six turnovers.
In the second half, the Lady Pirates brought a renewed defensive intensity that forced Duke into 12 turnovers for the period, and Jones was not immune to that trend. During a 15-4 Hampton run, the freshman committed two of five Blue Devil turnovers, helping the Lady Pirates to get within six points.
“I knew we needed to calm down, slow down the game a little bit and just run plays and execute,” Jones said.
Duke pushed the lead back to eight by the 7:59 mark, and McCallie took a second to speak with Jones at the ensuing media timeout.
“I just told her to enjoy what she was doing and take her time,” McCallie said. “She’s got so much speed and creativity. Sometimes it can cross, and it can cost her a little bit. I just want her to be patient, take her time out there and allow herself to read.”
Out of the break, Jones steadied the offense and finished the game with three more assists and just one turnover as the Blue Devils built their lead back to 19. That ability to regroup as the game goes and make adjustments on the fly will become more important for the guard the deeper the team goes in the tournament. McCallie had her own moment to gauge Jones’ growth.
“She did a beautiful thing to me today,” McCallie said. “She waved me off today on a play call. First time that’s ever happened, and this is a very good sign…. She saw something developing and sure enough it was a pass to Richa and a score. And I got a chuckle out of that, and so did Chelsea on the bench.”