The way to beat Duke is to make Tre Jones take threes, or so the thinking went until the Blue Devils’ 75-73 win over Virginia Tech on Friday night. The freshman point guard, who is now shooting 26.5 percent from long range after last night, was left to do whatever he wanted at the arc when UCF almost upset Duke in the second round, and he responded by going just 1-of-8 from three. He hadn’t made more than one three-pointer in a game since Nov. 19, when he got two against San Diego St.
So Virginia Tech followed the correct blueprint when they gave much more effort to stopping R.J. Barrett and Zion Williamson on the inside than they did keeping Jones from making the open catch-and-shoot, but instead of tanking his team’s hopes, Tre Jones responded by transforming into Trae Young. Jones played all 40 minutes and went 5-of-7 from deep, scoring a season-high 22 points to go with eight assists and zero turnovers. It was undoubtedly his best game of the year, and it sent a clear message: Underestimate Duke’s sometimes-overlooked freshman at your own peril.
For Jones, who comes from the suburbs of the Twin Cities and whose older brother Tyus plays for the Timberwolves, the fight to get to the Final Four in Minneapolis is even more emotional than most. His mother, Debbie, was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer, Jones announced a few weeks ago.
“My mom has always been my coach or been at my games and now with what she’s going through, she’s not able to be at as much stuff right now,” Jones said after Duke won the ACC Tournament. “It definitely makes me want it even more and do it for her.”
But with top-shooting starter Cam Reddish out because of a last-second injury, it seemed like the Blue Devils would look more one-dimensional than ever on offense. Instead, the team trusted Jones to make the plays that he hadn’t made before.
“These guys believed in me all year, especially after last game with me struggling from 3,” Jones said after the game. “They kept believing in me. Coach kept telling me to take the shots, and these guys kept telling me take my shots, and they were able to fall tonight.”
“Tonight, we knew they would let Tre shot it,” said Zion Williamson. “So Coach was the first one to say, ‘Tre, they’re playing off you. Shoot it. Nobody is telling you not to shoot it. We all have confidence in you.’”