CHARLOTTE—Tre Jones has done just about everything for Duke this season—elite on-ball defense, playmaking for his magnificent classmates and managing the Blue Devils' fast-paced offense.
Hunting his own scoring wasn't always a priority, not until the second half of the ACC championship.
Jones evoked memories of his older brother Tyus Saturday night, shining when the lights were brightest with 13 of his game-high 18 points after the break to help Duke pull away from Florida State. He drove into the Seminoles' physical defense and finished consistently at the rim, winding up 8-of-14 from the field. His efforts helped the Blue Devils dominate the paint, outscoring Florida State 42-18 in that area.
"Earlier in the year, Tre was just happy running the team and did a great job. He's still happy running the team, but he can score and we need that and he knows that better now," head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "So we're just more balanced and we have a lot of confidence. They have a lot of confidence in one another."
Particularly after returning from a shoulder injury he suffered against Syracuse in January, Jones has often been hesitant to attack the paint, content to move around the perimeter and take open 3-pointers. Those looks were easy to find because he wasn't making them, with defenses content to sag off of him on the perimeter to clog the paint and make life more difficult for Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett. Since the injury, Jones is shooting just 13-of-57 beyond the arc, a 22.8 percent clip.
He didn't settle for those open shots Saturday, using his finesse and body control to get shots off at the rim around defenders. The 6-foot-2 point guard's 11 2-point attempts were his most since Duke's first matchup against the Seminoles Jan. 12, the game before his shoulder injury, and his seven made shots inside the arc were season highs.
"Early on in the game, I saw they were helping off of me a lot, trying to plug gaps, to Zion especially, but R.J. as well," Jones said. "As a player and a competitor, I wanted to do everything in my power to help us win, and it just took more scoring from me tonight."
Jones showed his aggressiveness on the Blue Devils' first offensive possession of the second half, knocking down a pull-up midrange jumper to respond to a triple from Terance Mann that put Florida State ahead 39-36. That started a 10-0 run that gave Duke the lead for good.
"We emphasized at halftime to come out and deliver the first blow in the second half," Jones said. "Both teams were a little fatigued from the past few games, but we knew that if we were able to get stops and get out in transition, we would be able to wear them out."
Jones finished that spurt with a layup off a full-court bounce pass from Williamson that hit him perfectly in stride. In a reversal of the connection that has occurred countless times this season, it may have been Williamson's finest play of a spectacular tournament.
"I was just feeling it. Tre was running, I said, 'Let me try to dime it,' and it got through and Tre finished," Williamson said. "I'm just glad he made the layup."
After a few minutes of trading buckets, Jones made back-to-back driving layups to give the Blue Devils their first double-digit advantage of the game in the middle of another 8-0 run.
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Then, with the game getting dicey again down the stretch and Duke's lead down to seven, Jones delivered again, ending a scoring drought of more than two minutes with a short pull-up just before Cam Reddish's dagger 3-pointer polished off the win.
With Jones contributing and all three of his fellow freshmen in the starting lineup topping 10 points as well—Reddish barely squeaked over that threshold for the first time of the tournament with the late triple—the Blue Devils had four double-figure scorers for the first time since March 2. If they can continue to spread out the offense like that to take pressure off Williamson and Barrett, they have as good a chance as anybody to cut more nets down in Minneapolis in three weeks.
"We weren’t going to accept anything but a win in this ACC tournament," Jones said. "All of us really came here to win a championship. Even when we committed, we talked about coming here to win. So being able to get this first championship, it means a lot, but hopefully we’re not done."