CHAPEL HILL — An 0-for-12 stretch and a 6:57 scoring drought would have been enough to sink even the most talented of Duke teams on the road at the Dean E. Smith Center, but at the end of the day it was the Blue Devils' two point guards who were walking arm-in-arm with smiles stretching from ear to ear after the final buzzer sounded.
"Our backcourt was sensational," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "Those two kids have played so well all year."
No. 3 Duke utilized another electrifying game from the combination of Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones to outlast the Tar Heels 84-77, securing the third win in four years in enemy territory for the Blue Devils. Just as they did on Coach K Court 17 days ago, Cook and Jones combined for 44 points while being the top two scorers for Duke, providing the impetus for a relentless second-half comeback.
Although it may seem today like the Cook-Jones backcourt was destined for success, there weren't many outside of the Duke locker room who believed the senior and freshman could coexist on the floor together. Cook was the embattled incumbent who had unceremoniously lost his starting job the year before, and Jones was the No. 4 recruit in the nation, according to ESPN. But the duo has proved their doubters wrong every chance they've gotten.
"It started with [Cook's] acceptance of how we were going to use him with Tyus coming in," Krzyzewski said of Cook's leadership and importance to the team. "What a great example of, 'is that good for the team?' and then carry that forward."
But leadership isn't all Cook is good for.
"He's been an All-Conference performer," Krzyzewski continued. "I mean, Quinn's been a great player this year, not just a great leader."
Saturday night Cook poured in an easy 20 points, including four 3-pointers. Since Duke's 30-point victory against Notre Dame, Cook has been red-hot offensively, averaging an even 21.0 points per game in those eight games. That just happens to coincide with when Wooden Award finalist Jahlil Okafor cooled off, seeing his average drop to 15.9 points—although that is buoyed nicely by a 30-point outing against Virginia Tech, without which his average plummets to 13.5 points per game.
The only thing that has stopped full-blown Quinn-sanity in Durham is the play of Tyus Jones. The prodigious point guard has mystified and terrified opponents in every big game this season. It is no small feat to set your career-high in points against North Carolina—and Jones has done that twice in two games. Against the rival Tar Heels, Jones is averaging 23.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, 7.5 assists and 2.0 steals per game. Those of the sort of numbers that make a player famous on Tobacco Road. Putting up those numbers after having to miss a portion of the game with injury makes you that much more special.
"When Tyus is playing like that, it just takes us to another level," freshman Justise Winslow, who fouled out after scoring 13 points, said. "I'm glad he's on our team and not the other team tonight. He's a great player."
It's not easy becoming one of the best backcourts in the nation, and it's that much harder when you have to constantly hear about how you don't fit in with your new running mate. But that's just what Cook and Jones have accomplished this season. The two have become brothers on the court as well as off of it, and the results speak for themselves.
"They're great players. I have all the confidence in the world in them," Winslow said of Duke's two point guards. "When they're out there making plays, it really makes our team a lot better. Tyus' ability to score and still take it in. Q's ability to to make plays and lead our team. That's something that this team really needs and something that is really valuable to us."
The image of Cook and Jones, all smiles, wrapping one another in an embrace in the bowels of the Dean Dome is one Duke fans hope to see frequently now that the regular season has drawn to a close. Seven times this season the the tandem has scored 15 points apiece in the same game, and almost always in important games it is Cook and Jones steering Duke to victory.
Considering that backcourt play has dictated championships over the past few seasons—just ask Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright, and Peyton Siva and Russ Smith—the Blue Devils' postseason fortunes could be favorable, at least according to Winslow.
"Those two guys, they were amazing tonight, and if they keep playing like this, it's looking good for us in March," he said.
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