Upperclassmen continue to lead the way for Duke

Duke guard Matt Jones goes up for one of his five first-half 3-pointers against Bryant at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham,.
Duke guard Matt Jones goes up for one of his five first-half 3-pointers against Bryant at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham,. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Mike Krzyzewski said at ACC media day last month that Duke’s upperclassmen were its best players, as they are the ones ready to play.

Case in point: Matt Jones’s performance Saturday in Duke’s 113-75 win over Bryant.

After making half of his attempts from the field (4-for-8 and 1-of-4 from 3) in Friday’s win against Siena, Jones had the hot hand for the Blue Devils early in Saturday’s game.

He poured in 19 first-half points – two more than his career-high for a full game – including a 5-of-6 mark from deep. He rested all but three minutes of the second half, a precaution to project the groin injury that sidelined him for a week in the preseason.

Jones had tweaked his shot from last year – previously his feet, specifically his toes pointed in towards each other. Now, his feet are more parallel, making his footwork more sound. Still, Jones isn’t expected to be one of Duke’s primary scorers this year – the bets for that title are on Grayson Allen, Brandon Ingram and Luke Kennard, listed in order of expected production.

But for Duke to have success, especially early this season, the veteran corps of Allen, Jones, Amile Jefferson and Marshall Plumlee are going to have to be steady and occasionally shoulder most of the load.

On Friday night, it was Allen, who scored 26 points and drove the lane with authority. After the win over Siena, he spoke of the need to replicate that production every night. He did that and then some Saturday, scoring 28, a new career-high. Allen could have taken more shots if he wanted to, but instead, he often kicked the ball out to other shooters on his drives.

That’s something the upperclassmen have done well up to this point – help bring their younger teammates along.

“Grayson and Marshall weren’t into themselves (Friday), they were trying to help everybody,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “When you’re young, sometimes your thoughts are just with you instead of talking. (Saturday), they talked well.”

The talk started after Friday’s game, when the captains called a team meeting (a regular occurrence last year). Krzyzewski wasn’t pleased after Friday night’s 92-74 win over Siena – he thought the freshmen were too caught up in whether their shots were dropping or not. So the upperclassmen did what they could to teach them.

“We don’t want to have to lose to learn from something,” Allen said. “We want to be able to learn from wins and keep winning.

“They’re thinking too much,” Allen said of the freshmen. “That comes with a college game, going through a scouting report, you can be thinking about a lot of stuff when you just need to go play basketball. We talked to them about getting comfortable and contributing in other ways than just scoring. Some of the guys might have gotten a little down on themselves when they were missing shots. Missing shots is okay as long as you’re taking good shots.”

Until the freshmen find their niche – and at this point, it’s impossible to say exactly what that will be – Duke will need Allen, Jones, Plumlee and Jefferson.

Jones doesn’t have to sink five 3s every half. But if he can, Duke will take it.

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Laura Keeley: 919-829-4556, @laurakeeley