X factor: Duke basketball vs. Notre Dame



After Jerian Grant's heroics propelled Notre Dame to a 77-73 victory against the Blue Devils just ten days ago, No. 4 Duke will look to exact revenge against the 10th-ranked Fighting Irish Saturday at 1 p.m. at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The rematch will go a long ways in deciding the regular-season ACC title as the Blue Devils find themselves just one game behind Notre Dame in the loss column.

With all eyes on the showdown between National Player of the Year contenders Jahlil Okafor and Grant, we take a look at two other players who could play the deciding role for their teams. Before each game this season, the Blue Zone will select a player on both teams that could make the difference for their respective squads:

Duke: Matt Jones

The DeSoto, Texas, native has seen his role steadily increase following the dismissal of junior Rasheed Sulaimon. Serving as the primary backup perimeter player for the short-handed Blue Devils, Jones has played more than 20 minutes in each of his last four contests and received some playing time down at the guard and forward positions down the stretch against Virginia.

Despite only averaging 5.2 points in a little more than 17 minutes of action per game on the year, the 6-foot-5 guard’s versatility off the bench is significant to the Blue Devils' chances of coming away with a victory Saturday. Jones’ ability to stretch the floor with his outside shooting and do the little things like crash the boards and come up with loose balls could be huge in what promises to be another tight contest.

Although he had just two points on 1-of-4 shooting last Wednesday against Notre Dame, Jones led the team with four assists. Some scoring punch would be a nice boost for Duke Saturday, but Jones has shown he can have just as big of an impact by playing tough defense and facilitating for others. Against Grant and the numerous Fighting Irish threats that comprise the nation's most efficient offense, defense will be priority number one for the Blue Devils—Jones has always excelled on that end of the floor.

Notre Dame: guard Demetrius Jackson

Jackson joins Pat Connaughton and Zach Auguste as the primary options for Notre Dame other than Grant, and the 6-foot-1 guard's ability to knock down open looks from outside and take ball-handling pressure off Grant could be huge. Jackson’s athleticism has been overshadowed at times this season due to his lethal three-point stroke that makes him a must-cover from deep. For the year, the Mishawaka, Ind., native has averaged 12.9 points per game on 42.7 percent shooting from beyond the arc.

Jackson possesses the same skill-set as many players that have hurt the Blue Devils defense this season with his quick first-step and ability to score over taller defenders in the lane. With Duke focused on preventing Grant from taking over the game once again, Jackson should have opportunities and will likely need to knock down a few to keep the defense honest like he did last week against the Blue Devils. He scored 10 points and knocked down two triples in the contest.

In addition to trying to bounce back from his lackluster three-point performance against Boston College Wednesday, Jackson's defense against Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook is a huge key for the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame tightened the screws defensively when it made its run in the last 10 minutes last week, but could have major issues if it lets Duke's guards get going. With no good matchup for Okafor, the Fighting Irish can't afford Jackson and company to get burned and let the Blue Devils dictate tempo.


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