On senior night, Duke’s eldest statesman, Amile Jefferson, turned back the clock and played as he did prior to his January foot injury.
His steady play inside, combined with a blast of points on the perimeter from freshman Frank Jackson, helped the No. 17 Blue Devils halt their two-game losing streak.
Jackson poured in 22 points while Jefferson scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as Duke topped No. 15 Florida State 75-70 in ACC basketball at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Tuesday night.
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The Blue Devils (23-7, 11-6 in ACC) avenged the 88-72 beating the Seminoles administered on them in Tallahassee, Florida on Jan. 10 and kept their hopes alive for a top-four finish in the ACC standings.
Duke travels to play rival North Carolina, which has already clinched the ACC Tournament’s top seed, on Saturday night at Chapel Hill. The Blue Devils are tied with Florida State (23-7, 11-6) in the ACC standings with one game to play.
The 6-9 Jefferson had his most productive game since suffering a bone bruise in his right foot during a Jan. 7 win over Boston College.
A fifth-year senior, Jefferson missed Duke’s next two games, including the loss at Florida State, and has played the last six weeks at less than 100 percent.
Playing his final home game at Cameron Indoor Stadium, Jefferson recorded his seventh double-double of the season and his first since producing 10 points and 12 rebounds when Duke blasted UNLV 94-55 on Dec. 10 in Las Vegas.
“It was good to see Amile back healthier,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “That’s how he’s played most of the season and for the last few weeks. His foot, he hasn’t been able to practice. It’s limited him and it’s limited us. Tonight he was great.”
While Jefferson provided the production inside, Jackson took advantage of a starting assignment to show his scoring skills.
“Frank was sensational,” Krzyzewski said.
The 6-5 guard hit five shots in a row early in the second half, including three 3-pointers, to score 13 quick points and help Duke open a 49-30 lead with 15:31 to play.
Starting in place of junior guard Grayson Allen, who played in a reserve role while battling a nagging left ankle injury, Jackson opened Duke’s second-half scoring with a 3-pointer after his Florida State defender fell down.
Jefferson hit two free throws and, after Jayson Tatum missed, Luke Kennard rebounded and fired the ball out to Jackson who nailed a 3-pointer from the right corner for a 42-25 Duke lead.
Jackson added to his scoring binge by tallying Duke’s next three baskets as well: Two drives for shots in the lane and a 3-pointer with 15:31 left giving Duke a 19-point lead.
“I just look to stay aggressive every game,” Jackson said. “I try to find my teammates at times. They (the Seminoles) was really pressuring the wings and the other guards, so I looked to attack the basket.”
Florida State slowly cut into Duke’s lead over the next six minutes. When the Seminoles scored seven points in a row, they’d cut the Blue Devils advantage to 64-56.
But Kennard buried a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 5:51 to play pushing Duke’s lead back into double-digits.
FSU cut the deficit to eight points again when Dwayne Bacon, who led his team with 19 points, hit a jump shot with 3:22 left.
But Kennard answered with two free throws at 2:28 for a 10-point Duke lead.
Kennard added 17 points while Tatum scored 15 for Duke, which shot 45.8 percent. The Blue Devils failed to shoot 40 percent while losing at Syracuse and Miami last week.
Closing the regular season against two ranked teams, the Blue Devils faced a tough task to stop their losing streak before entering next week’s ACC Tournament.
“It was getting back to preparing the right way and really focusing in on our preparation,” Allen said. “I thought we did a good job previously but everyone was really locked in and just gave that extra effort. Everyone did a great job of playing hard and being their emotionally.”