Matt Jones has drawn a lot of criticism from fans this season.
The senior went 3-of-19 from 3-point range in the month of December, with many questioning how many minutes the ultimate glue-guy should see with Duke finally fully healthy.
Jones put those concerns to rest—at least momentarily—by resurrecting a lifeless Blue Devil team in the second half Saturday night.
After No. 18 Duke’s lowest-scoring first half of the season resulted in a 36-25 halftime deficit, Jones inspired his teammates by making three 3-pointers during a game-changing 20-0 run the Blue Devils used on their way to a 70-58 win against Miami at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Duke interim head coach Jeff Capel started Jones and fellow reserves Frank Jackson and Marques Bolden in the second half, and the switch saved the game—and perhaps the season—for the Blue Devils.
“We just got to a point where we were fed up. We needed to fight and everybody needed to fight,” Jones said. “I decided to gamble. I knew we had nothing to lose. We had to make a play. It just so happened that two of the balls we wouldn’t have gotten in the first half went our way in the second half.”
Following a scoreless first half, Jones set the tone coming out of the locker room when he snuck behind Miami’s Kamari Murphy for a steal and transition layup.
A few possessions later, Jones caught Ja’Quan Newton napping, coming up with another steal and calmly draining his team’s first 3-pointer of the game—Duke had missed its first 10 triples of the contest—to cut the deficit to 37-32.
Then the floodgates opened.
The Blue Devils rattled off 15 more consecutive points with Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard on the bench to start the second half, locking down the Hurricanes after halftime to prevail in graduate student Amile Jefferson’s return from injury. Jefferson missed road losses at Florida State and Louisville with a right-foot bone bruise.
Although he had just five points on 1-of-4 shooting, the Philadelphia native led the team with 12 rebounds.
“We got on each other and we decided to sink or swim…. The coaches made a change and they put it on us to be Duke and to represent that name on the front,” Jefferson said. “We came out [in the] second half and we were tough and we were tough because of Matt. Matt made us all tough and when we play like that, we’re a really good basketball team.”
To say Saturday’s game was a tale of two halves might be an understatement.
Miami (12-6, 2-4 in the ACC) used the same formula that led to wins against Duke the past two years to take control in the first half. The Hurricanes used pick-and-rolls on every possession to spread a leaky Blue Devil defense out for drives to the hoop and kick-out 3-pointers.
After Duke (15-4, 3-3) started the game ice cold but cut an early deficit to 18-17, Miami went on a 9-0 run sparked by Davon Reed to quiet the home crowd. Reed scored 12 first-half points on four made 3-pointers set up by dribble penetration as the Hurricanes racked up eight assists to the Blue Devils’ one in the opening 20 minutes.
“It was a lack of everything. We weren’t tough, we didn’t do it together, we got down, maybe tried to do some stuff on our own,” Capel said. “Because our defense was so poor, we were not able to get out in transition like we were in the second half. It was a combination of all of that.”
But in his fourth game standing in for head coach Mike Krzyzewski—who is still recovering from back surgery—Capel’s decision to bench two of the team’s three leading scorers in Kennard and Allen paid off.
With Jones, Jefferson, Jackson, Jayson Tatum and Bolden—who had his best game of the year with eight points and four rebounds—on the court, life became miserable for Miami’s guards.
Miami made just five shots in the first 18 minutes of the second half, with the Hurricanes’ 12 second-period turnovers leading to 25 points and letting Duke pull away when Kennard and Allen returned. Tatum, Jackson and Kennard joined Jones in double figures by combining for 35 points.
Tatum ended up leading the team in scoring with 12 of his 14 points coming after halftime, and Jackson also had a bounce-back game with 10 points, four assists and no turnovers sharing time with Allen as the Blue Devils’ primary ball handler.
“We just need everybody when your number is called. It just showed for the three guys that didn’t start, they weren’t pouting, they weren’t upset, they were the first three guys running out off the bench when we were getting stops,” Tatum said. “That gives us confidence that our teammates are still fighting and trusting.”
Duke will have to recover quickly from the emotional win as they host N.C. State Monday evening looking to get back above .500 in conference play.
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