Every time the Blue Devils needed a big play, their sophomore point guard rose to the occasion.
No. 7 Duke ended its two-game home losing streak with an 81-63 win against No. 8 Maryland led by Alexis Jones—who had 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting, including a career-high five 3-pointers, four assists and four rebounds. The Texan started the game by making her first two 3-pointers and sparked the Blue Devils’ 52.6-percent shooting effort.
Jones had four points and two assists during Duke’s 10-0 first-half run that gave the Blue Devils a seven-point edge late in the period. She added an assist and back-to-back 3-pointers as part of Duke’s 11-0 run that put the Blue Devils up by 16 in the second half and blew the game open.
“I thought she was fantastic,” Maryland head coach Brenda Frese said. “She played with a ton of poise. You could see that with her swagger out on the floor. She was in command. I thought the confidence she instilled in all her teammates was huge for Duke tonight.”
Jones’ big night coincided with one of Duke’s strongest defensive performances of the season. The Blue Devils (23-3, 10-2 in the ACC) showed increased defensive intensity from the opening tip, causing Maryland to miss its first four field goals.
Two-time reigning ACC Player of the Year Alyssa Thomas started the game 1-of-9 from the field and faced swarms of Blue Devils at every turn. The Terrapins (20-5, 8-4)—who came into Monday's game averaging 84.0 points per game—shot just 32.4 percent from the field for the game.
Jones was one of Duke’s most active defenders, frequently getting deflections and flying around the court. Her counterpart—Maryland point guard Lexie Brown—shot just 4-of-15 from the field and was thrown off by Duke’s variety of defenses and Jones’ ball pressure.
“We were really aggressive on the defensive end,” Jones said. “We were helping each other out a lot, which we worked on a lot during this past week. Helping each other a lot made us focus more on the defensive end.”
Once Duke had asserted its defensive prowess, Jones went to work by attacking in transition and spreading the ball around to spark Duke’s big runs. The Blue Devils had four players in double figures and freshmen post players Oderah Chidom and Kendall McCravey-Cooper combined for 11 points off the bench.
Jones emulated injured point guard Chelsea Gray with the way she evenly distributed the ball and made big shots.
“I was really happy with [Jones],” McCallie said. “[Jones] was very smart, very competitive and did many, many good things out there directing.”
Richa Jackson also had a big night thanks to Jones’ vision and pace of play. The senior had 19 points and frequently filled lanes on the break before receiving passes from her point guard in stride. However, even Jackson was not prepared for all of Jones’ no-look passes.
“There’s a nice connection between [Jones and Jackson],” McCallie said with a joyful smile. “[Jones] sees everybody really well. Richa’s got to get used to those passes because a couple of times [Jones] found her and Richa [wasn’t ready].”
Last season when Jones stepped in for the injured Gray late in the year, she played her best basketball—averaging 13.8 points, 6.1 assists and 5.4 rebounds per game. She was also the MVP of the ACC tournament.
Duke could use another strong late-season stretch from its dynamic floor general with contests against No. 14 N.C. State and No. 2 Notre Dame looming this week. The Blue Devils also play at No. 11 North Carolina next Sunday before opening ACC tournament play.
Jones’ ability to set a defensive tone and control the pace like she did Monday could determine Duke’s fate in those big games.
“She’s our point guard and our leader on the floor,” Williams said. “For her to display that kind of energy—it really gets a lot of us going both offensively and defensively. She did a great job of just leading us. It was nice to see that confidence in her.”
Perhaps even more importantly, all of the Blue Devils—including their head coach—seem to enjoy the game more when they see Jones flying down the court with the ball in her hands.
“One of the biggest things for us is to have fun and enjoy what we’re doing,” Williams said. “We just try to relax and do what we do.”