Duke needed a single 3-pointer to show how fed up it was.
Hosting Miami after dropping two straight ACC games on the road for the first time since 1995, the No. 18 Blue Devils couldn’t afford another loss in a tough conference.
Following a poor first half against Louisville in its last loss, Duke’s first half against the Hurricanes Saturday too closely resembled the start of its previous outing – low assist total and virtually invisible from deep. Duke had one assist and was 0-for-8 from behind the arc, shooting 28 percent overall in the first half.
So Matt Jones changed the course, taking it out on the 3-point line.
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We had nothing to lose.”
His first basket in Duke’s 70-58 victory over Miami at Cameron Indoor Stadium was a triple off his own steal with 17:22 showing in the second. It was the first of three straight treys (3-of-5), all from the right wing, for Jones, who sparked a team that trailed the visitors by double digits at halftime.
Duke (14-4, 3-3 ACC) roared out to a 20-0 run in the second half behind the senior captain being fed up.
“I think we got to a point where we were fed up, and we needed to fight,” said Jones, who opened Duke’s scoring less than a minute into the second half.
“In the second half, we needed a spark, and we needed it from our upperclassmen,” he said. “We knew that if we did that, then the guys would take our lead.
“We had nothing to lose.”
Each of Jones’ 13 points came in the second half.
He scored three straight triples, the first two off forced turnovers; Jones, who cited improved defense as a major attribute in Duke’s second-half turnaround, led the team with three steals.
Duke’s run, capped by a pair of free throws from its leading scorer Jayson Tatum (15 points), lasted 6 minutes and 12 seconds, and the Blue Devils outscored Miami (12-6, 2-4) 45-22 after the break in a must-win game for them.
“It was a big win for us,” acting head coach Jeff Capel said. “Every one of them is. That’s the way our program is. All of them are must-wins. Tonight was huge. We’ve lost two in a row, we’re at home and we performed that way, especially in the second half.
“We were worthy of winning.”
Jones, who went 0-for-2 in the first half, was reunited with fellow captain Amile Jefferson, who returned after missing two games with a bruised bone in his right foot.
Jefferson’s first basket also came in the second half, when he dropped a layup at the 18:56 mark. He finished with five points in a surprising 34 minutes, which led all Blue Devils.
Capel said what doesn’t show up on the stat sheet is what’s most impressive about Jefferson, whose leadership was sorely missed.
Jones, who, with Jefferson back, didn’t start, was on the floor to start the second half. Capel said he liked the energy of the unit that was Jones, Jefferson, Tatum, Frank Jackson and Marques Bolden, who carried Duke’s game-changing run. Junior guard Grayson Allen dislocated his pinky with 0.3 seconds left in the first half, when Miami led 36-25.
“That’s why Matt Jones is so important to this team,” Allen said. “He did it today with scoring the ball. He took two gutsy 3-pointers that were momentum changes. He got the crowd into it.”
Cameron roared after Jones’ first 3 of the half and rumbled when his second tied the score at 37 at 15:37.
Jackson dished a team-high four assists, two going to Bolden in Bolden’s best game of the year (4-of-6 for eight points, four rebounds, one turnover in 23 minutes).
With the combination of effort from Bolden and Jones, their shared hometown of DeSoto, Texas, was well-represented.
“We couldn’t make shots in the beginning,” Jones said. “The only way we could get back is if we played defense and made more shots. Guys had confidence, and they stepped up and knocked them down.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan