Tyus Jones grew up priding himself on playing the game the right way, making the extra pass, getting his teammates involved, the type of stuff great point guards traditionally do. And the freshman did all that Tuesday night in Duke’s 81-71 win over Michigan State.
But Jones also sensed when it was time for him to step up and hit shots.
Jahlil Okafor, who was tough for No. 19 Michigan State (1-1) to contain all game, picked up his fourth foul with 8 minutes, 59 seconds left and No. 4 Duke defending a 58-51 lead. Up to that point, the Blue Devils (3-0) had been most successful when they looked for their big man inside—he scored 15 points in about 26 minutes on the floor—but they were going to need a plan B to hold off the more veteran Spartans.
Enter Jones, the pass-first point guard who can also shoot.
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On the ensuing possession, Jones stole the ball from Michigan State junior Denzel Valentine and fed it to Quinn Cook to start a fast break. Cook dished it back to Jones, who finished the easy lay-up. And on Duke’s next possession, the shot clock was winding down as Jones held the ball. He fired a desperation, off-balance 3-pointer, was fouled by Valentine and fell to the floor as the ball swished in.
Jones made the free throw for the four-point play, and, just like that, the Blue Devils were ahead 64-51 with just over eight minutes remaining.
Jones added six more points down the stretch, too, finishing with 17 for the game on 4-of-5 shooting, and he also added four assists. Cook led all Duke scorers with 19 points, taking a team-high 12 shots (and making seven). Okafor added 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting, and Justise Winslow, the third major freshman contributor for the Blue Devils, flashed his abundant athleticism slashing to the rim, finishing with 15 points.
"These guys will tell you, I have a lot of confidence in all of them," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. They’re never hesitant to shoot."
Krzyzewski stopped as Cook, who was sitting beside him in the press conference, broke into a Cheshire Cat-like grin and started laughing.
"Especially Quinn," Krzyzewski said, drawing laughs. "No, really. I don’t ever want our guys to hold back."
Krzyzewski had said before the game that he knew his freshmen wouldn’t be afraid on the big stage, and he was right. There was certainly room for improvement, especially on the defensive end. Michigan State was able to hang around for most of the game largely due to their superior offensive rebounding. In the first half, the Spartans pulled down eight offensive rebounds—Duke had just nine defensive rebounds on the same glass.
The Blue Devils had trouble staying in front of cutters and defending the interior, a fatal flaw with last year’s team. Michigan State shot 50 percent from the field (30-for-60) for the game.
"They get loose balls and rebounds really well," Krzyzewski said about Michigan State. "That’s the thing, for us to get better, we’re going to have to learn to do that.
"These guys, especially the young guys, sometimes they stop after a shot is taken. And they’re ready to go on to the next play, but the play is still happening with that loose ball. Our concentration just has to carry over a little bit more. But overall, especially in the last 12 minutes, it was very good."
Duke was good because Jones was better than good—he was great down the stretch, displaying the type of poise that Krzyzewski and assistant Jeff Capel fell in love with years ago.
"I was able to take what the defense gave me," Jones said, "And we were just able to play."