Tobacco Road—meet Tyus Jones.
Playing what will go down as one of the best of the 239 Tobacco Road rivalry games, No. 4 Duke downed No. 15 North Carolina 92-90 in overtime Wednesday at Cameron Indoor Stadium behind senior captain Quinn Cook's six 3-pointers and Jones' late-game heroics. The pair combined for 44 points by the time it was all over.
"I was just trying to make a play. My brothers believe in me when I have the ball in my hands and that gives me all the confidence in the world," Jones said. "There was a point—I think it was 79-72 in a timeout—and [head coach Mike Krzyzewski] told us, 'We're going to win this game.' We believe in everything Coach says. There wasn't one moment we doubted ourselves. Even down 10, we know there's a lot of basketball left."
The Blue Devils (23-3, 10-3 in the ACC) trailed by seven with 1:38 remaining in regulation and seemingly could not buy a bucket—they were 3-of-10 from the field since the eight-minute mark. Luckily for them, Jones lives for those kind of moments.
The Apple Valley, Minn., native scored Duke's next nine points—including the game-tying layup with 27 seconds left—and put the Blue Devils right back in the game.
"He's got cold blood, he's got cold blood in his veins. It's amazing to watch," Cook said of Jones.
The freshman kept it going in overtime, converting on a layup and finding his backcourt partner Cook for a fast-break layup—Jones' eighth assist of the game. Cook came through moments later with 31.8 seconds remaining, as he converted 1-of-2 free throws to push the Duke lead to 91-89. Twenty-three seconds later, the senior sealed it with one more from the charity stripe to give the Blue Devils their final margin of victory in the first overtime game the rivalry has seen since 2004.
"It's tough for this game to always live up to the hype, but I think tonight's game exceeded it," Krzyzewski said. "Every once in a while, one team doesn't do its part—us or them. But for the most part, both teams come and play at a high, high level. And that's what happened tonight."
And as the score indicated, the game was arguably Duke's hardest-fought of the season.
After opening the first half on a 15-6 tear, the Blue Devils fell flat coming out of halftime and for the first time all evening, the Tar Heels (18-8, 8-5) took the lead on a J.P. Tokoto reverse slam dunk. The junior entered the game with three made field goals in his past three games but broke out of his slump with 15 points.
Following an Amile Jefferson layup with 18:20 remaining, Duke went 0-for-6 with two turnovers and North Carolina took off on a 13-0 run. The Tar Heels snagged three of their 19 offensive rebounds during that time. But just like they did in the first half, the Blue Devils—led by their captains—weathered the storm.
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After scoring seven points in the first 20 minutes, Jefferson poured in six in the opening seven minutes of the second half, including a four-point stretch to break North Carolina's run and swing the momentum back to Duke.
Enter Cook. The senior guard knocked down his sixth 3-pointer of the night with 11:12 remaining in the game to close the gap to one for the Blue Devils.
Coming into the game, much was made of the matchup between Cook and Jones and the Marcus Paige-led Tar Heel backcourt. But it was clear from the start Duke was going to get the better of the North Carolina guards. The Blue Devil tandem went for 44 points opposed to just seven combined points from Tar Heel starters Paige and Justin Jackson.
"I watch a lot of film on [Paige]. He's one of my favorite players to watch. He puts on shows," Cook said. "It was a great challenge and my teammates helped me a lot. But we've got to see him again."
Cook had 15 first-half points, but he was not alone in securing the early lead for Duke.
Freshman Justise Winslow led the charge in the early going, using his size advantage on Tokoto to convert on a stepback jumper after posting up and then driving past the junior to get the bucket. Jones found Winslow two possessions later on a lob to the rim which the Houston native converted easily. Winslow scored six points in the first 4:04.
But it was the sharp-shooting of the Blue Devils' lone senior that provided Duke with the double-digit cushion it enjoyed for much of the half.
Cook may have downplayed the storyline of the game being his final against the Tar Heels at Cameron, but the senior captain's first-half play said otherwise. Cook was nearly automatic from downtown, draining five 3-pointers and locking down Paige on defense.
North Carolina, however, would not stay quiet the entire half, thanks to its big men.
After trailing 23-13 with 13:08 following a Cook trey, the Tar Heels spent the next seven minutes chipping away at the Duke lead. Brice Johnson—one of North Carolina's athletic forwards—led the charge with 12 points and helped the Tar Heels whittle the lead down to six with 7:42 remaining in the half.
Duke once again got some breathing room, extending its lead to nine, but it was short-lived, as by the 4:54-mark a fast-break dunk by Tokoto and a 3-pointer from Paige had closed the gap to four.
With 3:33 remaining before intermission, Duke got a major scare. After missing on a spin hook, Jahlil Okafor's left foot came on Joel James' foot and the Blue Devil big man fell to the floor. After spending several minutes on the court, Okafor was helped off and taken to the locker room. The Chicago native returned to the game just before the break, playing the entire second half and finishing with 12 points and 13 rebounds.
"I was scared for him. You never want to see your brother hurt," Cook said. "But he's tough, so I wasn't surprised he fought through it. He told us he'll be ready Saturday."
Duke hosts Clemson Saturday at 4 p.m.