Chase Jeter didn’t immediately join halftime warmups.
He had to make sure he wasn’t putting too much pressure on his left leg. He lined up for a couple of shooting drills, then slightly limped to midcourt to finish light exercises. The Duke sophomore forward-center remained in his gray warmup shirt, as he’d done since 6 minutes into Saturday’s Hall of Fame Tip Off semifinal against Penn State on Saturday.
Jeter went down under Penn State’s basket with 13:58 left in the first half. The play went on at the other end as he writhed in pain, clinching his ankle. The starter was helped off the floor and replaced by sophomore Antonio Vrankovic, who wound up with two points and seven minutes in top-ranked Duke’s 78-68 victory.
After the game, coach Mike Krzyzewski said he didn’t know enough about Jeter’s ankle to determine whether or not he’d play in Sunday’s Naismith bracket championship game against undefeated Rhode Island (4-0). No. 21 URI rallied past No. 24 Cincinnati, 76-71, to advance.
“He was walking but couldn’t push off of it. I know if he can play, he’ll play,” Krzyzewski said. “We would like to win.”
Twenty seconds into Vrankovic’s appearance, he secured a defensive rebound that led to a Matt Jones 3-pointer and a 14-8 Duke lead. Vrankovic drew contact on a missed layup and made both free throws in the first.
He represented that next-man-up mentality Duke (3-1) has had to adopt this season in the midst of injuries. Jeter was just the latest to have injury trouble, as three of the Blue Devils’ five-star freshmen have been benched due to injury-related causes with no return date in sight. Junior Grayson Allen played with toe issues, and graduate student forward Amile Jefferson wasn’t 100 percent earlier this week.
“After Chase went down, Antonio came in and he really did a good job,” Jefferson said. “He gave us a big spark in the first half. It’s about next man up. All our guys have to be ready.”
Jefferson led the game with 15 rebounds, 10 coming off the defensive glass. He added four blocks, brining his total on the season to 15.
Jeter had eight blocks through the first four games of the year. He was 1-of-2 from the free throw line and had an assist before his early exit Saturday.
“This summer, coming back from the Olympics, I didn’t think we’d be in this situation,” Krzyzewski said. “I thought we’d be a really deep team, and we’re not right now.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan