Matt Jones grabbed his cell phone from his locker, laughing as he thumbed through whatever was on the screen.
Apparently, he had impressed some people who were watching back in his hometown of DeSoto, Texas.
“My boys from back home, they’re funny,” said Jones before addressing the defense he played on Michigan State star freshman Miles Bridges in Duke’s 78-69 victory over the Spartans Tuesday. Duke hosted the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and used a second-half defensive surge to undo Michigan State (4-4) and a halftime tie.
Jones helped lead that charge.
Though he only scored a couple of points on 1-of-7 shooting, coach Mike Krzyzewski said the senior guard had “a spectacular two-point performance tonight.” Jones’ four steals and four assists to one turnover were probably what had his boys riled up.
Since the 2015 championship game, Jones has prided himself on guarding the best player on the floor. Bridges came in averaging a team-high 17.4 points a game. He finished with 11 and was one of three Spartans with three turnovers.
He was physical, more physical than I thought, but he’s a big kids. It was definitely a challenge, but a challenge, nonetheless, that I definitely wanted to accept. Matt Jones on guarding Miles Bridges
MSU committed 10 second-half turnovers, while Duke went on an 11-0 run starting at the 14-minute mark. The run was sparked by Grayson Allen’s three-point play and strengthened by freshman Frank Jackson (11 points).
Allen led the game with 24 points.
Duke (7-1) saw its defense spawn offense during the run, as MSU committed four turnovers and only attempted one shot during that time. Bridges was responsible for two of those turnovers, and MSU’s freshmen accounted for 11 of the team’s 18 turnovers.
“Defensively, especially in the second half, we were very good,” Krzyzewski said. “We went with Frank on three straight possessions. We felt even though he’s playing well, he kind of willed about six or seven points there.
“That was a key part of the game, no question about that.”
Before the loss, MSU was 4-0 when senior guard Eron Harris scored in double figures. He scored 14 against the Blue Devils and had a piece of Jones in the first half.
Jones switched to Harris and immediately pressured his dribble and forced a turnover, leading to a Jackson bucket in transition for a 15-15 tie. Cassius Winston’s layup for MSU tied the game at 35 at halftime.
“It’s not at the top, it’s definitely not at the top. It wasn’t that bad,” Allen said about the intensity of Krzyzewski’s halftime speech. “You know, he has his ways of motivating us.”
MSU shot fairly well in the second half (11-of-24) but couldn’t overcome Duke’s spurt. The Blue Devils managed the win with only six players, sophomore Chase Jeter coming off the bench for 21 minutes.
A physical Spartans team tried to use its size to wear on an undermanned Duke, but breaking into a double-digit lead helped when the Blue Devils got tired. Though Jackson shined in the second half, Krzyzewski was comfortable allowing his veterans to carry the load, guys who were there the last time Duke played Michigan State: in 2015’s Final Four.
Grad student Amile Jefferson scored 17 points and pulled down a game-high 13 rebounds. Both teams scored 38 points in the paint, so Duke relied on Jefferson inside. Luke Kennard added 20, going 1-of-7 from long range. Jones’ only make, after going 0-of-6 from deep, came when he drove the baseline for a layup in the second half.
“We’re in shape for now,” Jones said. “Hopefully we don’t have to play with six guys going down the road, because I know the ACC is really tough. I know the next game we play is really tough. It definitely was a physical game, we were a little fatigued at the end.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan