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Double-team Zion or RJ if you dare. That’s Tre Jones’ message to Duke opponents.

Duke’s Coach K after win over VT: ‘Our kids were terrific tonight’

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski talks about the play of his team after the Blue Devils defeated Virginia Tech in the Sweet 16 in Washington, D.C., Friday, March 29, 2019.
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Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski talks about the play of his team after the Blue Devils defeated Virginia Tech in the Sweet 16 in Washington, D.C., Friday, March 29, 2019.

Because Zion Williamson and RJ Barrett each average 22 points per game, shots are available for their Duke teammates.

Someone gets the chance to make them yet, for all the Blue Devils’ success this season, no one has done it consistently.

Tre Jones got his chance not only Friday night but in the week leading up to Duke’s 75-73 win over Virginia Tech in a thrilling NCAA tournament regional semifinal game.

Jones hit only 5 of 15 shots, going 1-for-8 on 3-pointers, in Duke’s 77-76 escape of a win over Central Florida in the second round last Sunday in Columbia, S.C.

In practice, as the Blue Devils prepared for the Hokies, that didn’t stop the Blue Devils from working on plays to set up open shots for Jones.

Duke's Marques Bolden credits teammate R.J. Barrett for helping the Blue Devils win a close game over Virginia Tech.

“I told him, `Teams aren’t not covering you because you’re not a good shooter,’” Duke assistant coach Jon Scheyer said. “It’s pick your poison.”

The attitude was blunt. If Duke’s opponents want to double-team Williamson in the post or Barrett when he starts to drive, someone was going to take shots and burn them.

Against Virginia Tech, that someone was Jones, who played one of his best games of the season to keep Duke’s NCAA championship hopes alive and well.

His season-high 22 points featured five made 3-pointers on seven attempts with 8-of-14 shooting overall. He played 40 minutes of turnover-free basketball, dishing out eight assists while collecting one steal.

“Tre was magnificent, not good, in running our team,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “And not just scoring but eight assists, no turnovers, good D.”

Watch a time-lapse of the last seconds of Duke's victory over Virginia Tech in the NCAA Sweet 16 basketball game in Washington, D.C., Friday, March 29, 2019. The Blue Devils will face Michigan State in the Elite 8.

The assists, defense and error-free minutes have been constants for Jones. The scoring was an added plus but it also sent a message to Michigan State, Duke’s opponent in Sunday’s East Regional final, and whomever the Blue Devils could play in the Final Four should they reach it.

Jones hit three of his 3-pointers in the first half, establishing himself as a serious threat if left open. He yelled out in celebration to get the Hokies’ attention after those makes, hoping for even more open shots.

“He was cocky tonight,” Scheyer said. “That’s great to see. He needs to be that way with not only his whole game but his shooting.”

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Duke’s Tre Jones (3) celebrates as a timeout is taken in the second half of Duke’s 75-73 victory over Virginia Tech in their NCAA Sweet 16 game in Washington, D.C., Friday, March 29, 2019. Ethan Hyman ehyman@newsobserver.com

The success was the product of Duke’s staff and his teammates showing confidence in Jones and his extra work shooting after practice this week. He wanted to be comfortable when the open shots came his way, so he shot 3-pointers from different angles.

“These guys believed in me all year, especially after the last game with me struggling from 3,” Jones said. “They kept believing in me. Coach kept telling me to take the shots and these guys kept telling me to take my shots. They were able to fall tonight.”

It’s the second time in Duke’s last four games Jones has established a new career high in points. He scored 18 on eight of 14 shooting when the Blue Devils beat Florida State 73-63 in the ACC tournament championship game in Charlotte two weeks ago.

But in Duke’s 10 games prior to that night, Jones failed to score 10 points in five of them.

He’s certainly found his shooting touch at the right time.

His older brother, Tyus, earned the reputation as a clutch shooter four years ago when he was the Most Outstanding Player at the 2015 Final Four when Duke won the national championship.

Tre Jones hasn’t done it consistently enough to equal Tyus’ reputation. But Duke is three wins from another national championship, and Tre Jones knows the opportunities will be there.

“For us to continue to win,” Jones said, “I’m going to have to continue to hit that shot. I’m just believing in my work and the coaches and my teammates have my back.”

Zion Williamson explains how he pulled off that explosive alley-oop in the first half of Duke's game against Virginia Tech.

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An Illinois native, Steve Wiseman has covered Duke athletics since 2010 for the Durham Herald-Sun and Raleigh News & Observer. Prior to his arrival in Durham, he worked for newspapers in Columbia and Spartanburg, S.C., Biloxi, Miss., and Charlotte covering beats including the NFL’s Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints, University of South Carolina athletics and the S.C. General Assembly.
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