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'He's a godsend': Tre Jones delivers magnificent all-around outing to spark Duke men's basketball

<p>Tre Jones played all but 31 seconds Thursday night, racking up a career-high six steals as his defensive effort set the stage for Duke's ever-efficient transition attack.</p>

Tre Jones played all but 31 seconds Thursday night, racking up a career-high six steals as his defensive effort set the stage for Duke's ever-efficient transition attack.

NEW YORK—Tre Jones headed to the bench one last time Thursday night as the final 30 seconds ticked off the clock. 

Other than timeouts, the pine was an unfamiliar place, as Jones had played every second up to that point.

But before he could take a seat, Coach K was waiting, arms wide open and ready to embrace his freshman point guard. And the rest of the Duke bench rose to their feet in unison, acknowledging as impressive an individual effort as any by a Blue Devil this season.

"Tre was the key to the game," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "He just turned it around for us with six steals, usually he’s not looked for a shot, he willed balls in, and all of our guys just fed off of that. It was magnificent to see. He did a hell of a job, and as good on the ball as we’ve had, right with [Tommy] Amaker, [Bobby] Hurley, Wojo, [Chris] Duhon, he’s right there, and tonight, maybe better."

Jones isn't one to worry about his own offense. The Apple Valley, Minn., native has only logged double-figure points in six of Duke's 12 games thus far, including an outing against Stetson in which he didn't score once, yet still managed to dish out seven assists in 15 minutes.

Like his older brother, Tyus, however, Tre Jones already seems to have the knack for showing up when the lights are brightest. 

His steady 17-point, three-assist showing helped the Blue Devils claw back against Gonzaga in the Maui Invitational finale. Jones then played a critical role against Indiana, scoring 15 while also adding eight helpers as R.J. Barrett, Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson took advantage of the help from their classmate en route to a combined 60 points.

So, on the floor at Madison Square Garden for the first time, it only was fitting that Jones delivered time and time again.

"I have the biggest respect for Tre because he stays in the whole game and plays full-court defense the entire time, all while orchestrating the offense," Williamson said. "When we need an energy boost, he’s the one who goes to dive on the floor to get that steal or attack the basket. I love playing with Tre.”

Texas Tech, which entered Thursday's tussle with the nation's top-ranked defense, more than showed its dominance on that end of things. Each Red Raider on the floor constantly harassed Duke's young offense, forcing the Blue Devils to play from behind.

Yet no Texas Tech player matched Jones' defensive intensity.

It's nothing new for the rookie. Tuesday night against Princeton was the first time Jones didn't register a single steal in a game. And it broke a string of five games in which he'd snagged multiple takeaways.

Within the first four minutes, Jones had already stolen the rock away twice, with the second leading to a thunderous jam from Williamson and a quick Red Raider timeout.

"When you see your point guard out there, your leader on the court diving for loose balls, getting steals, doing whatever he can, it has to motivate you," Barrett said of Jones. "He’s everywhere all the time."

Jones finished the night with six steals, doubling his career best, and he committed one turnover despite a hounding Texas Tech unit that forced Duke into 19 giveaways.

He also handed out five more assists, including a crucial outlet pass to Barrett thanks to a Javin DeLaurier floor-board as the Blue Devils regained the lead a little more than midway through the second half.

Jones acknowledged that, after being the alpha dog for much of his basketball career, it's been an adjustment to play with a trio of talented young stars as well as crucial role pieces—all of which have combined to make Duke as dangerous a team as any in college basketball.

"It’s not easy," Jones said. "But at the same time, I’m playing for the greatest coach of all time, I’m playing with some of the top players in the country. So as difficult as it is making an adjustment, it’s not that difficult because I get to just play my game and feed these guys, and then on the defensive end just do as much as I can."

Late in the game, as one of the night's final media timeouts wrapped up, four of the five Blue Devils made their way back to the floor, huddling together. Jones, on the other hand, sat on the bench with a towel on his head, trying to catch as much a break as he could.

Jones then hopped up from his chair right at the second horn and made his way back onto the hardwood just before the Red Raiders could inbound the ball.

It was time to finish what he'd started.

"He’s a godsend for me," Krzyzewski said of Jones. "I’m so excited about coaching him. It’s like coaching, like the U.S. team, you have LeBron, Chris Paul, they make real-time [reads.] A lot of kids—there aren’t many that can get their teams to, but Tre can do that. He’s got it, and what he did tonight was one of the best performances."

Mitchell Gladstone | Sports Managing Editor

Twitter: @mpgladstone13

A junior from just outside Philadelphia, Mitchell is probably reminding you how the Eagles won the Super Bowl this year and that the Phillies are definitely on the rebound. Outside of The Chronicle, he majors in Economics, minors in Statistics and is working toward the PJMS certificate, in addition to playing trombone in the Duke University Marching Band. And if you're getting him a sandwich with beef and cheese outside the state of Pennsylvania, you best not call it a "Philly cheesesteak." 


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