It could have been the end for Amile Jefferson a year ago.
His senior season was eventually ended by a fractured foot from which he never recovered in 2015-16. The 6-foot-9 forward was nine games into the year. He started in all of those games.
After the NCAA awarded him an additional year of eligibility, Jefferson returned to the court this season as a graduate student and third-time captain.
He finally got his senior night Tuesday. No. 17 Duke defeated No. 15 Florida State, 75-70, as Jefferson celebrated his last game at Cameron Indoor Stadium alongside exiting guards Matt Jones and Nick Pagliuca.
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It was hard for Jefferson to find the right words as he addressed media one last time from his locker.
“It’s a blessing. Um – it’s unbelievable to be back here,” said Jefferson, who posted his first double-double since UNLV on Dec. 10 with 14 points and 11 boards on Tuesday.
“If my freshman year I could have broke down where I’d be today, it wouldn’t be at Duke,” he said. “It’s been an amazing journey for me.”
Jefferson reached the 1,000-point threshold with a layup at 14:58, giving Duke a 10-8 lead. His father, Malcolm Musgrove, who was in the audience with the rest of his family, stood up after the basket and yelled out “That’s my boy! That’s my boy!” while high-fiving the people around him.
Jefferson grabbed his first five rebounds less than five minutes into the game and was perfect from the floor with a 6-of-6 night.
Jefferson, a native of Philadelphia, Pa., started his final season at Duke averaging a double-double. He’s the leading rebounder for the Blue Devils (23-7, 11-6 ACC).
While grateful to be back with Duke another year, it hasn’t been easy. He couldn’t escape the injury bug that infected the Blue Devils this year, hurting the same foot he had fractured last year on Jan. 7 against Boston College. Jefferson exited that game with a bruised bone after 13 minutes and would sit out the next two – which included an 88-72 loss to Florida State on Jan. 10.
I’ve been playing, but I’ve been playing not to get hurt, playing thinking about my foot.
Since, Jefferson has played through a pain that has limited him in practice and in games. He scored four points in 21 minutes in Duke’s 55-50 loss to Miami on Saturday.
“When he’s healthy, he was getting a double-double,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “It could be 15 points, 12 rebounds. We’ve missed that. It’s not his fault.
“He’s one of our better players.”
Duke allowed 56 points in the paint its first game against the Seminoles (23-7, 11-6) with Jefferson, the team’s leader in blocked shots with 1.6, sidelined.
He collected four against FSU on Tuesday; freshman Jayson Tatum (15 points, nine boards) had Duke’s other two. The Seminoles scored 38 points in the paint this time, and an FSU big didn’t score until about 45 seconds into the second half.
Though freshman Frank Jackson owned the night with a 22-point performance as a starter in place of a banged up Grayson Allen, Jones closed his four-year career at Duke, too.
He had five points and three rebounds in 34 minutes, checking out from Coach K court one last time alongside Jefferson with 20 seconds left.
Krzyzewski gave Jones a kiss on the cheek.
Four years here ain’t for the faint-hearted.
Duke senior Matt Jones
“Four years here ain’t for the faint-hearted,” Jones said. “To have that moment with Coach ... to be an old man basically to these kids and to have that moment with Coach is one that I’ll cherish forever.”
Jefferson and Jones won a national title in 2015 along with junior guard Grayson Allen. The two have played 279 combined games in a Duke uniform.
Krzyzewski said while there have been notable players to play for Duke for the one year, the veterans are key, too.
“How lucky am I to have these kids for five and four years,” said Krzyzewski, who followed tradition by taking the senior players and managers out to dinner with his family on the eve of senior night.
“As good as the kids are who come here and don’t stay the whole time, they’re great kids, but they have to learn the culture from somebody,” he said. “Our program is about the veterans.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan