When Matt Jones landed on his left ankle – as opposed to the bottom of his left foot – at North Carolina, he was terrified. So terrified, in fact, that he couldn’t look at it.
“To be honest, I didn’t even look down,” Jones said. “I just heard people talk about it and talk about the play, but I just made it a point not to really look down, because I knew I would get discouraged if I did.”
But after spending “every minute of every hour” in the training room in between the Feb. 17 UNC win and last Saturday’s Louisville loss, Jones was able to start moving around again. And he was back on the floor for the first time Thursday night in Duke’s 80-65 win over Florida State. Jones played 34 minutes, scoring 11 points on 4-of-8 shooting and recording a team-high five assists on an ankle that he estimated was about 90 percent. His first shot attempt showed some rust – a wide-open, air-balled 3-pointer – but it got better from there.
“Yeah, it took me a while to get lathered up,” Jones said. “But I felt like coming back out at halftime, getting a half under my belt, it loosened up a little bit, and I was able to do a little bit more.”
After an 0-for-9 start from the field, the Blue Devils took their first double-digit lead with 6:24 left in the first half (31-21). It was a 13-point advantage at halftime (43-30), as FSU had eight turnovers to Duke’s one. The Seminoles never cut to to single digits in the second half.
Grayson Allen led all scorers with 18 points, and he flashed all the fire Duke fans love and non-Duke fans love to hate. With 18 seconds left in the 15-point game, he stole the ball from Florida State’s Xavier Rathan-Mayes. The two got tangled up, and Allen appeared to stick his leg out and trip him as Rathan-Mayes went back up the floor. The play occurred in front of referee Tony Greene, and he opted not to blow his whistle.
“It was really nothing,” Allen said.
Postseason play is less than two weeks away, so the reeling Seminoles (16-12, 6-10), losers of five straight, gave the No. 15 Blue Devils (21-7, 10-5) the perfect opportunity to get some run back closer to full strength (injured forward Amile Jefferson continued to watch from the bench in street clothes). Derryck Thornton was back, too, shaking off the effects of a right shoulder that popped in and out of place at Louisville. He had to leave the floor for a crucial six-minute stretch in the second half, during which Duke’s lead disappeared.
“It came out when I got hit, and then it came back in pretty quick,” Thornton said of his shoulder. “They were doing a lot of stretching, and they gave me a shot and all that.”
Once the adrenaline wore off after the game, Thornton, like Jones, was in considerable pain. Both logged considerable time in the training room, using ice, massages and muscle stimulation as the recipe to get back on the floor quickly.
Both are well aware of the Blue Devils’ numbers crunch when it comes to depth. A four-guard rotation is much less effective with two players hurt. That’s especially true when Jones, Duke’s junior captain, is out of the mix.
“He commands the respect of everyone on our team,” Mike Krzyzewski said. “He can think like a coach better, in real-time. And so we rely a lot on him. He has to give them a lot of emotion during the game.”
Krzyzewski said afterward that he team was emotionally exhausted after its ACC Murders’ Row (Louisville, Virginia, at UNC and at Louisville) and effort against Florida State. The Blue Devils don’t have long before facing another grind-it-out type of team – Pittsburgh – on the road on Sunday afternoon. But the Blue Devils do at least have Jones and Thornton back.
At this point, it’s all hands – and ankles – on deck.