Duke’s Coach K can rest easy with guards Jordan Goldwire and Tre Jones on defense

While Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski waits for his offense to kick into high gear, the Hall of Fame coach can somewhat rest easy knowing he has two veteran guards who can hold things down on the defensive end of the floor.

In the Blue Devils 69-63 exhibition win over Northwest Missouri State on Saturday, the offense didn’t shoot great (42 percent from the floor, 12 percent from three), but Krzyzewski was pleased with the defense, especially the play from his guards.

Duke forced 21 turnovers and finished with 11 steals. Sophomore guard Tre Jones and junior guard Jordan Goldwire combined for six of those, with Goldwire setting a career-high with four. Freshman wing Wendell Moore added three, but the stingy back court duo of Jones and Goldwire can be a building block as the team goes through its offensive growing pains early.

“It’s something new for us,” Krzyzewski told the media after the game on Saturday. “Jordan’s had a great summer and fall. The two of them really like playing with one another and that’s a big boost for us.”

Jones, who started 36 games as a freshman, started the game with a steal, and finished the play with a dunk for his first points of the season. Last season he had 68 steals and proved to be one of the best on-ball defenders in the nation. He was named to the ACC All-Defensive team last season and proved why against the Bearcats as he harassed their guards for 94 feet most of the game.

The Northwest Missouri guards didn’t get any relief when Jones wasn’t in the game. Goldwire, who finished with 29 steals last year, was just as aggressive on the defensive end. When Krzyzewski really wanted to cause problems, he played the duo together. Goldwire feels like that can be a nightmare for opposing back courts all year.

“Most definitely,”” Goldwire told the N&O after the game on Saturday. “You saw it towards the tail end of last year a little bit. I think this season all year we are going to try and cause havoc.”

Jordan Goldwire, Duke’s veteran guard

For Goldwire, when he gets the minutes, the payoff on the defensive end is huge. As a sophomore he played 10 minutes or more in 12 games. In nine of those games he came away with at least two steals. As the veteran guard on the team, Goldwire’s minutes, and role, should increase this season, and if Krzyzewski continues to play him and Jones together, the defense should carry the load early in the season.

“It’s major for us. We have to stop other teams first before we can get the ball,” Goldwire said. “Defending is something that not just me and Tre pride ourselves on, but the whole team. Me coming in trying to give the team a spark any way I can and defensively is something I thrive on.”

The offense will thrive if Jones and Goldwire play up to par. Against Northwest Missouri State, Duke finished with 20 points off turnovers and 13 fast break points. In a game where Krzyzewski said his young players have to finish better, the layups and outlets were a way to get easy buckets.

Coach K pleased with Matthew Hurt

Moore and fellow freshman Cassius Stanley, both athletic, 6-6 players on the wing, should only make the entire defense better once they catch up to the skills on that end like Goldwire and Jones. One freshman who Krzyzewski was pleased with on the defensive end was 6-9 forward Matthew Hurt, who had to chase around a 6-6 forward all night.

“For a freshman to play that defense,” Krzyzewski said. “To be a 6-9 guy and be able to move out there was really good.”

Krzyzewski pointed out that one of the best combinations, defensively, included the back court of Jones and Goldwire, paired with Moore, Stanley and either Hurt or 6-7 senior forward Jack White.

But the catalyst of the Blue Devils’ defense will without a doubt be Jones and Goldwire, who get better every day by guarding each other in practice.

“The energy he brings, the confidence,” Jones said about Goldwire. “He’s been competing ever single day, getting better. He’s just showing right now how much he really wants it. We both talk all the time about making it as difficult as possible on other teams guards.”

Jones was then asked how tough a combination of he and Jones can make it for opposing back courts this season.

“We’re both point guards, we have the mind of a point guard, but we are defensive point guards as well, we like to defend,” Jones said. “We’re usually on the same page on the defensive end and I know we both love that.”

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Sports reporter Jonas Pope IV covers college recruiting, high school sports, NC Central and the ACC for the Herald-Sun and The News & Observer.