Desperately needing a spark early in the second half with the score tied at 40, Tre Jones stepped up to the 3-point line with a fearless look in his eyes.
Seconds later, the sophomore point guard's fourth 3-pointer of the night hit nothing but net, giving Duke a lead it wouldn’t relinquish.
That image of a dominant Jones was a common theme throughout No. 2 Duke’s 74-63 win against Georgia State Friday night, as Jones carried the Blue Devils to their 150th consecutive nonconference victory at Cameron Indoor Stadium. The Apple Valley, Minn., native notched a career-high 31 points on 10-of-19 shooting from the floor, dishing out six assists and adding four steals.
“[Jones] put on a hell of a performance tonight,” head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “He’s like a running back for crying out loud, and then he’s still playing on the defensive end. He had a great performance tonight. He’s one of the best players in the country and he showed it tonight.”
It seemed as if the sophomore point guard couldn’t miss from anywhere, hitting four of his eight shots from downtown and scoring in the paint at will. The highlight—as if there was just one highlight—came with about 14 minutes remaining in the contest, when Jones slashed inside yet again, drew the foul and banked in the layup in front of a roaring Cameron crowd. The and-one put Duke (4-0) up double-digits for the first time of the evening.
Despite playing just nine minutes of Duke’s win against Central Arkansas Tuesday after leaving with a head injury, Jones came out scorching hot. Six minutes into the contest, he already had eight points, finishing the first half with a game-high 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the floor.
"I think it just came throughout the game, really," Jones said of his aggressiveness on offense. "I didn't really tell myself or anything, I was just taking what the defense gave me and that's just how they decided to play tonight and shots were falling."
But the sophomore point guard wasn’t the only Blue Devil who had a career performance Friday night. Vernon Carey Jr. posted an impressive game of his own, notching his second-straight double-double with 20 points and 14 rebounds. The freshman center had 11 points and nine rebounds by halftime.
"It has been a process for sure," Jones said of Carey's development in the post. "I think for him, someone that size, it's hard to really figure everything out in the post in high school because you don't really get the competition, I mean the physical competition for sure—he was always beating kids up in high school. So getting here in college, and getting someone else that can bang with him down low, he has to learn right away. But he's done a great job and he's always working."
Joey Baker also had his most impressive game as a Blue Devil, totaling eight points in 15 minutes. But perhaps Baker’s biggest attribution to the contest wasn’t shown on the stat sheet, as the sophomore forward's floor slap early in the second half fired up both his teammates and the crowd.
The moment signified a turning point for Duke—Jones’ electric and-one layup came on the Blue Devils’ ensuing offensive possession.
Just a few minutes later, Baker sank two 3-pointers within a minute span, nearly stealing the show away from Jones. By then, everyone within the confines of Cameron Indoor seemed to forget that Georgia State (1-2) actually led 34-31 with a minute remaining in the first half, anchored by 12 first half points from guard Kane Williams and 10 first half turnovers for the Blue Devils.
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"I thought [the Panthers] were tougher than we were, by far, in the first half," Krzyzewski said. "We were not ready for that level of intensity from our opponent, and they played with that intensity throughout, and obviously in the second half we matched or exceeded it, and that's why we won."
One aspect Duke struggled with throughout the entire game, however, was outside shooting. Outside of Baker and Jones, the Blue Devils shot just 1-of-15 from downtown. The trio of Baker, Carey and Jones also combined for over 79 percent of the team’s points. With a team supposed to be focusing on offensive balance, that’s a number that has to improve.
After a six-day break, Duke will continue the Empire 2K Classic at Madison Square Garden, taking on California Thursday at 9 p.m. in New York City.
"[In] the second half I thought we played with the intensity and the will to win that we need to... We learned a lot tonight," Krzyzewski said. "We learned another way to win."