Duke guard Matt Jones finds his stroke against Gonzaga

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski greets guard Matt Jones as he heads towards the bench near the end of the Blue Devils’ 66-52 win over Gonzaga.
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski greets guard Matt Jones as he heads towards the bench near the end of the Blue Devils’ 66-52 win over Gonzaga. cliddy@newsobserver.com

It was a name Quinn Cook used twice to describe Matt Jones: 3-point assassin.

It took even Jones a little by surprise.

“Quinn said that?” he asked.

Cook was using that to refer to what Jones was in high school, but made it clear he thought Jones was still a shooter. Saying it after Jones went 4-for-7 from 3-point range in Sunday’s Final Four-clinching win against Gonzaga provided nice supporting evidence.

“He is so good on defense that he gets caught into the glue guy perception, just a defensive specialist,” Cook said. “But that’s what he came to Duke for, to be a shooter and just play his butt off.”

Jones’s secret? A little home cooking.

Kind of.

“I made a point to go to Whataburger every day we’ve been here, and it changed my life,” Jones said, with no hint of hyperbole.

Whataburger, a regional fast food restaurant headquartered in Texas and not found north of Arkansas, was a staple of Jones’ high school days.

“I went after every high school game. Just brings back memories,” Jones said. “I missed the burgers, the atmosphere” (again, no irony conveyed).

So every day the Blue Devils were in Houston, Jones went to Whataburger, ordering a No. 5, a Bacon and Cheese Whataburger, plain, with blue cheese and French fries.

“And I shouldn’t be drinking soda, but I get a soda,” he said.

It might not be a meal found on any recommended nutrition plans for athletes, but it worked for Jones.

His 16-point performance in the Elite Eight against the Bulldogs was enough to earn him one of five spots on the South Region all-tournament team. All three of his second-half 3s came at critical moments.

His first came out of a Duke timeout called by coach Mike Krzyzewski in an attempt to halt a 5-0 Gonzaga run to open the second half, tying the score at 31.

Jones’ next 3 broke another tie at 38, forcing a Gonzaga timeout. His final deep 3-pointer of the half came about two minutes later, extending Duke’s lead to 48-42 with 9 minutes, 40 seconds left in the game.

“Matt gave us such a huge lift,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s been that dirty-work guy, and for him to hit those four 3s, it’s like a big difference.”

Gonzaga coach Mark Few knew that his stretch-4, Kyle Wiltjer, wasn’t athletic enough to guard Duke’s stretch-4, Justise Winslow, in a man-to-man defense, so the Bulldogs attempted to hide Wiltjer on Jones, who isn’t normally a major offensive contributor.

Jones was able to take advantage of the opportunity.

“We gave up a couple corner 3s to Matt Jones that we never should ever give up,” Few said. “And they were just mental slip-ups.”

As time expired on Duke’s win, it was Jones who jumped into Krzyzewski’s bearhug saying, “We did it, coach!” A few minutes later, he took another leap of faith up the ladder to snip a bit of the rim – his fear of heights notwithstanding – and tied it around the strap of his regional championship hat.

The net was still dangling down his forehead when he was asked if the 3-point assassin label Cook gave him accurately described how he felt.

“No, I just felt like a guy that wanted to win really badly,” he said. “But I can say that for everyone on the team.”

Related stories from Raleigh News & Observer