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X-factor: Tre Jones' defense could help stop Princeton's offense in its tracks

<p>Tre Jones's playmaking should help Duke put away the Tigers early.</p>

Tre Jones's playmaking should help Duke put away the Tigers early.

Duke will take on the Tigers as they come to Cameron Indoor Stadium for an out-of-conference matchup. The Blue Zone takes a look at a player from each team that could be a difference-maker in the game.

Duke: Guard Tre Jones  

Throughout the season, Tre Jones has been one of the most, if not the most, consistent perimeter defenders for the Blue Devils. While he doesn’t stuff the stat sheet like star forwards R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson, he’s always there on the defensive end with his quick hands and feet, hustle and focus. In the twenty-six minutes he was on the floor against the Bulldogs last Saturday afternoon, Jones continually pressured Yale guard Alex Copeland full court, forcing him to pick up his dribble and cough the ball up five times in the match. Leading the charge for an aggressive Blue Devil defense, Jones set the tone as Yale was forced to run its offense several feet behind the 3-point line. Pressure sped up the Bulldog offense, leading to turnover after turnover, which converted into 24 points for the Blue Devils. 

There’s no doubt that many of Duke’s victories are fueled by steals, fastbreaks and second-half runs that tend to blow the game open for the Blue Devils. Duke epitomizes the concept of “turning defense into offense,” and the Blue Devils will need to execute what they do best against a team more than capable of providing an upset. Against Princeton, a team with a variety of scoring guards such as Devin Cannady, Myles Stephens and four-star prospect Jaelin Llewellyn, a sharp and active defensive presence, especially on the perimeter, will be imperative for the Blue Devils, and that starts with Jones.  

Princeton: Guard Jose Morales  

Jose Morales plays a similar role to Jones, especially on a roster loaded with offensive talent. He organizes the Tiger offense, gets the ball to his teammates and plays tough on-ball defense. Morales averages a solid four assists per game and boasts 2.6 steals per game as well. But as the saying goes, with great power comes great responsibility. Morales will be held accountable to take care of the ball and run the Tiger’s half-court offense against a smothering Blue Devil defense that has wreaked havoc for unranked opponents all season. With Yale’s Copeland and other key offensive players turning the ball over and fueling fastbreaks for Duke, it’s unlikely that a similar Ivy League team won’t repeat the same story. It also doesn’t help that Morales is 5-foot-9 and in his first season as a starter for the Tigers. 

Even though Cannady, Stephens and Llewellyn pose serious offensive threats to the Blue Devils, Princeton’s offense will only go as far as Morales can take it. And if Jones brings the same pressure to Morales as he did to Copeland, the Tigers may have a hard time finding their rhythm. Morales will have to keep his composure (and dribble), find his teammates in open gaps on the court and attack aggressively but carefully. Then again, Duke has had some struggles with laziness on the defensive end, and it’s very possible Princeton will stick around in the first half. If Morales is able to take care of the ball and run the offense effectively, the Tigers’ talented guards will surely put the ball in the hole and provide a scare to the Blue Devils. 

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