Duke men's basketball hoping to contain red-hot Florida State without Jefferson in first top-10 road game of 2016-17
Through 16 games, Amile Jefferson has been the epitome of the Blue Devils’ resilience in the face of a series of injuries to key contributors and struggles integrating all their pieces together.
Coming off a fractured right foot that sidelined him a season ago, Jefferson has quietly held Duke together with his solid play in the post and leadership on and off the court.
Freshman Harry Giles could play a big role Tuesday with graduate student Amile Jefferson out with a right-foot bone bruise.
Facing one of their biggest tests of the season Tuesday, the Blue Devils will need to be resilient once again. But this time, they will need to weather a storm without their co-captain.
With Jefferson sidelined with a right-foot bone bruise, the seventh-ranked Blue Devils will face the first of two consecutive road tests against top-15 opponents when they take on No. 9 Florida State Tuesday at 8 p.m. at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center in Tallahassee, Fla.
“Amile is as important of a player as we have. His importance, his value cannot be measured by just numbers, and the numbers are incredibly impressive,” interim head coach Jeff Capel said on the ACC's weekly teleconference Monday. “Coaches really value the things that he does, the leadership, the talking, the experience.”
Although Duke’s highly-touted freshmen and guard Grayson Allen have garnered many of the headlines so far this season, Jefferson has served as the ultimate glue-guy on the court and enters the contest averaging a double-double at 13.6 points and 10.1 rebounds per game.
The Blue Devils (14-2, 2-1 in the ACC) are coming off an inconsistent outing in which they built a 25-point lead before holding off a Boston College comeback effort that trimmed the difference to just eight points with almost five minutes left.
Senior Matt Jones and freshman Frank Jackson will likely need to keep making perimeter shots for the Blue Devils to keep a long Florida State defense honest.
Graduate student Amile Jefferson will be re-evaluated Wednesday to see how long his right-foot bone bruise will keep him out.
Duke struggled after losing Jefferson and will need to shore up its defense to prevent Seminole guard Dwayne Bacon—who ranks seventh in the conference with an average of 18.1 points per game—from having a monster game.
Despite averaging more than 100 points in its last two games, the Blue Devil offense will face a unique challenge against Florida State’s combination of length and athleticism. The Seminoles—who start four players taller than 6-foot-6—rank in the top five in the ACC in blocked shots, steals and forced turnovers per game.
“We have a tough week playing against a team that’s arguably one of the best teams in the country in Florida State,” Capel said. “I’ve been really impressed by them and watching them on tape—their talent, their togetherness, their toughness. They’re well-coached, they play very hard and they’re really, really good.”
The biggest reason for Duke’s recent outburst has been Allen's ability to facilitate the team’s offense as the primary ball-handler. In the two contests following his one-game suspension for tripping, Allen has posted 18 assists, including a career-high 11 dimes against the Eagles.
With the guard’s penetration drawing in opposing defenders, freshman Frank Jackson and senior Matt Jones have benefited with open looks from beyond the arc. The duo has combined to shoot 12-of-25 from deep in Duke’s last two games.
“As a team, we can be very explosive when we play together, and it’s fun playing that way, so we just want to keep it going,” Jones said after the Boston College game.
But clean looks will be at a premium against Florida State’s aggressive perimeter defense, with the Seminoles looking for a signature home victory after matching their best start in program history with a 15-point win against Virginia Tech.
Florida State already won at another ACC contender in Virginia 60-58 Dec. 31 when Bacon scored 26 second-half points, including the game-winning 3-pointer in the game's waning seconds.
That victory is a main reason the Seminoles (15-1, 3-0) enter the contest ranked in the top 10 during the regular season for the first time since 1993 and started a six-game stretch for Florida State against ranked opponents. After winning the first two, the Seminoles are hungry for their first win against Duke since 2012.
Jefferson’s absence means the Blue Devils will turn to the freshman duo of Harry Giles and Marques Bolden and sophomore Chase Jeter—who missed the team’s last two games with a twisted back but will be active—to patrol the paint. The trio’s play Tuesday will go a long way in determining whether Duke can pull out a big victory.
The freshmen big men both struggled with foul trouble in Saturday’s win, with Giles fouling out and Bolden picking up four personals in seven minutes. If the Blue Devil bigs struggle to defend without fouling against the Seminoles and do not get back in transition, Duke could be forced to shorten its rotation against one of the deepest teams in the nation.
“Just being consistent on defense—giving it my all every single play—that’s what I really want to improve the most in,” Giles said Saturday. “Everything else will flow with time. The more I play, everything else will come, so I just want to get started on the defensive end.”
The Seminoles have taken advantage of their depth this season and have 11 players averaging double figures in minutes, which has allowed the team to close games with fresh legs. With a bevy of options at his disposal, head coach Leonard Hamilton has occasionally utilized hockey-line changes, with five bench players on the floor together at times.
The matchup between the teams will showcase a difference in continuity as the Seminoles have kept their rotation mostly the same throughout the year, and the Blue Devils have been forced to mix and match pieces due to injuries.
But in what has already been a trying season in which every rotation player has dealt with some sort of injury, Duke can make its biggest statement about resilience to date by overcoming the odds Tuesday.
“We’ve dealt with a lot this year and unfortunately we’ve dealt with a lot of guys out," Capel said. "I think this will be the eighth guy from our rotation that we’ve had out at some point this year. We just deal with it, next man up.”
Brian Pollack and Mitchell Gladstone contributed reporting.