RALEIGH — Last spring, fan bases from Duke and N.C. State were eagerly awaiting Amile Jefferson’s college decision. And on Saturday, Wolfpack nation got its first glimpse of the player many thought, at one point, was headed to Raleigh.
Jefferson was a vital part of Duke’s Ryan Kelly replacement plan, and in nine first-half minutes, he was effective, scoring eight points on 4-of-5 shooting. He added three rebounds, two offensive, and two blocks as Duke trailed the Wolfpack 41-39 at the break.
He held his own against Wolfpack star C.J. Leslie.
But Jefferson was only able to play three second-half minutes, and he picked up three quick fouls to send him permanently to the bench with 8:04 left to play. No. 1 Duke trailed by five when he fouled out and ultimately lost 84-76 to the Wolfpack, snapping the Blue Devils’ streak of 15 consecutive victories. Without Jefferson, Josh Hairston tried to guard Leslie, but Mason Plumlee had to switch onto him for the rest of the game.
Jefferson didn’t set any new career highs with his final stats line: 12 minutes, 10 points, four rebounds, two blocks and no turnovers. But he did show that he had the potential to be the long-term solution in Kelly’s absence.
And that’s what he was focused on after the game.
“I had to fill in for some big shoes for Ryan,” he said. “A lot of people think it’s the scoring, but it’s the defense that makes Ryan special, him being able to be a team defender. Our biggest adjustment right now is going to be coming in and pick up that defense that Ryan brought.”
Fans in PNC arena began heckling Jefferson as soon as he came out for pregame warmups.
“They recruited me, I was thankful for it,” he said of N.C. State. “I think I made the decision to be in the right place. It was never anything personal.”
The Wolfpack had envisioned Jefferson as the successor to Leslie. That didn’t happen, and now Jefferson is focused on replacing another Triangle-area forward.
“I’m learning from Ryan right now,” he said. “He plays really good team defense. When I’m able to do that like him, that’s the adjustment we’ll be able to make.
“He always knows where the ball is and where his man is. He rotates with the ball like it’s on a string. He plays without using his hands. It’s little things, honestly, it’s nothing big. When you’re out there, you’ll just get better at it, it will come naturally.”
Meanwhile, just down the hall, Rodney Purvis also fielded questions. Like Jefferson, he, too, had been recruited by Duke and N.C. State. But by the time he decommitted from Louisville in May, Duke had signed Rasheed Sulaimon.
Purvis said he tried not to think of the past when he was on the floor Saturday.
But was it personally satisfying to beat Duke?