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Jefferson's steady production a driving force for Blue Devils

<p>Amile Jefferson's post game has flourished on the low block for Duke this season, as has his offensive rebounding.</p>

Amile Jefferson's post game has flourished on the low block for Duke this season, as has his offensive rebounding.

In their last few games, the Blue Devils have seen numerous players emerge as leading scorers—Brandon Ingram paced the Duke effort with a career-high 24 on Wednesday and 23 more Saturday against Indiana and Buffalo, respectively, Grayson Allen took the reins against Utah State and Matt Jones headed the charge against Yale. Although lacking a single go-to scorer has paid off for the Blue Devils thus far, none of their success would be possible without the consistency of one of Duke’s more underrated players.

Senior captain Amile Jefferson has averaged a double-double with 11.3 points and 10.6 rebounds per contest this season. The forward has yet to lead his team in scoring in any game this season, but his steady contributions have been the glue holding an otherwise streaky band of scorers together.

“For me, it’s just always trying to be a leader and make sure we’re all connected,” Jefferson said. “I was just trying to bring us together, get us settled down [and] let everybody know it’s going to be fine.”

In Saturday’s contest against the Bulls, Jefferson struggled in the first half, as did most of his teammates. The Philadelphia native posted just two points off a pair of free throws and accumulated two personal fouls in his 12 minutes on the floor. Aside from the 25 combined points Duke received from Ingram and Allen, the Blue Devils followed in Jefferson’s footsteps and struggled to get things going on the offensive end of the court.

The second half was a very different story for Jefferson and the rest of the Duke squad. The power forward poured in 11 second half points on 5-of-5 shooting from the floor and also pulled down four rebounds to put himself—and the team—back on track. 

The rest of the Blue Devils followed suit with improved second-half performances. Freshmen Derryck Thornton and Luke Kennard—who did not score from the floor in the first half—bounced back from a rough first half and combined for 11 points in the final 20 minutes of play. Jones scored five points and reeled in three rebounds in the second half after just three points and a single board in the first.

Jefferson’s energy and ability to lead by example helped Duke shed its offensive woes and play a much stronger second half as a whole.

“He ignites a fire under me because he’s a great leader, so when he really demands something we have to respond in a positive way,” Thornton said. “He does so much for our team so you try to respond as much as possible.… He does a good job of right then and right there putting his foot down. That really helped our team and it helped the game shift in a positive way.”

Jefferson’s role as a quiet contributor and stabilizer is nothing new—he contributed two points, seven rebounds, three blocks, two assists and a steal off the bench in last season’s national championship game against Wisconsin. He opened this season with three straight double-doubles and has notched double-digits in either points or rebounds in seven of the Blue Devils’ nine games this season—including in each of the past four contests.

Even more underrated is Jefferson’s defensive contributions. He is often tasked with containing opponents' most versatile, talented frontcourt player and has achieved considerable success in doing so. Against then-No. 2 Kentucky last month, Jefferson helped limit the Wildcats’ highly-touted forward Skal Labissiere to seven points and four rebounds.

“Amile has got a lot of strengths,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said before the start of the season. “He’s a really key player for us. He knows what we want and is a good leader on the court. When big guys have a good voice in a game, especially defensively, it helps you.”

Having star players like Allen and Ingram to provide eyebrow-raising performances is great, but sometimes having ground-and-pound players is even more important. After all, consistency is key, and for Duke, that concept translates to the floor in the form of Amile Jefferson.


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