KEEPING UP WITH THE JONESES: Duke basketball downs Gonzaga to advance to Final Four
HOUSTON—Heroes can sometimes come from the unlikeliest of places. With the Blue Devils' season on the line, it was not ACC Player of the Year Jahlil Okafor, senior captain Quinn Cook or Houston native Justise Winslow who answered the call.
It was the Joneses. Both of them.
Key plays down the stretch from sophomore Matt Jones and freshman Tyus Jones helped propel top-seeded Duke past second-seeded Gonzaga 66-52 Sunday evening at NRG Stadium to send the Blue Devils back to the Final Four for the first time since 2010.
"I just kept telling myself that I was due for a big game," Matt Jones said. "As a team we had one goal in mind, and that was to get to [the Final Four]. I knew that we had to do whatever it takes to get there. I found myself open a little bit, and a couple of times I just had to knock them down."
Tyus Jones finished with 15 points and six assists, and Matt Jones added 16 points on 4-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc. Winslow tied Jones with a team-high 16 points, 11 of them coming in the second half.
It felt like the game was slipping away from Duke when Gonzaga (35-3) used a 7-0 second-half run to take a 38-34 lead with 16:20 left in the game. After the Blue Devils (33-4) fought back to tie the game at 38 apiece, Matt Jones took a feed from Tyus Jones in the right corner and knocked down a huge triple to give the Blue Devils back the lead. After a Bulldogs timeout, Matt Jones struck again, converting a steal into an easy layup on the other end to extend Duke's lead.
"This isn't the first time Matt has come up big for us, and it won't be the last," Okafor said.
On the Blue Devils' next possession, Tyus Jones leapt out of bounds to save the ball and threw it off the back of Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski—who was lying on the floor—to keep the ball in Duke's hands.
"It was just off a miss," Jones said. "I was able to get a deflection and knew that if I was able to throw it off Karnowski, it would give us another possession."
Okafor hit a jump hook off the ensuing inbounds play to give the Blue Devils a 43-38 advantage and send Duke's bench into a frenzy.
The Bulldogs hung tough and cut Duke's lead to 53-51 with less than five minutes to play, but the Blue Devils would not be denied a trip back to Indianapolis, where they won their last national championship in 2010. Duke responded with a 7-0 run, with all seven points coming from Winslow, who hit a triple from the left wing with the shot clock winding down to push his team's advantage to nine and force a timeout.
Winslow was surprisingly calm from the free-throw line down the stretch as well. Entering play shooting a dismal 59.5 percent from the charity stripe, the freshman forward went a perfect 6-for-6 on the evening.
"He was locked in," Cook said. "He showed the world the type of player he is."
Redshirt junior Kyle Wiltjer was a matchup problem for Duke all night, scoring 16 points to lead Gonzaga. But Winslow's defensive intensity helped keep Wiltjer off the scoreboard when it mattered most, holding the 6-foot-10 forward to just three points in the second half.
After allowing the Bulldogs—who entered play ranked seventh in the nation averaging 79.4 points per game—to take the lead, the Blue Devils let up just 14 points in the game's final 16:20.
"I'm so proud of our guys because we beat a hell of a team and our defense the last 16 minutes was spectacular," Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "I love these guys and they came through."
The Blue Devils will advance to the Final Four for the 12th time under Krzyzewski and will take on East Regional champion Michigan State Saturday at 6:09 p.m. at Lucas Oil Stadium.
"This is what I always wanted," Okafor said. "Watching March Madness growing up, you always wanted to be on a team that goes to the Final Four and has an opportunity to win a national championship. It's a dream come true."