When he walked back into Duke’s locker room after his postgame interview, his teammates swarmed him, pouring water on his head as they jumped up and down to congratulate him.
Gary Trent Jr. had scored a career-high 30 points against Miami on Jan. 15 and helped the Blue Devils pull off another improbable comeback victory.
The Blue Devils found themselves down 13 points with less than 10 minutes remaining. Trent knocked down back-to-back 3-pointers, which put the Hurricanes on their heels and brought the score back within reach.
No. 5 Duke (16-2, 4-2 ACC) would go on to complete the comeback and win 83-75.
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“I just kept shooting,” Trent said. “They kept going in. So I’m going to keep shooting when they’re going in, and when they’re not going in. Coach always says shoot your bullets, and I shot my bullets tonight.”
Trent, who is 6-6, 209 pounds, and only a freshman, has been arguably Duke’s most clutch player. He’s not the first option for Duke, nor is he the second and probably not the third. But when he gets the ball in those moments, he often makes a play. He has knocked down some big shots in close games and crucial moments.
For instance, against Texas on Nov. 24, with 36 seconds left in the game, Duke was down two points. Senior guard Grayson Allen had fouled out of the game, so Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski drew up a play for Trent. Trent inbounded the pass to Duke freshman forward Marvin Bagley III, who handed it back off to Trent. Trent drove, scored and was fouled. The bucket helped send the game to overtime, where Duke won 85-78.
Two days later, on Nov. 26 against Florida, Duke was down one point with 1:12 left in the game. Trent went to the free-throw line and made both. Then on defense, he stole the ball from Florida’s Jalen Hudson and was fouled. He knocked down both free throws again, and Duke went on to win that game 87-84.
Both of those victories were games in which Duke had to overcome double-digit deficits. In other games, even losses, he’s hit those shots as well.
Oh my God, he’s a grown man. He just stayed in the game. My shot wasn’t falling. A lot of the guys’ shots weren’t falling. And he just came up big for us with a couple of 3’s and you know he just played his butt off the whole time.
Marvin Bagley III
Then there was the Miami game. Trent was 4-for-4 from behind the 3-point line in the game’s final nine minutes. The final 3-pointer, with 1:16 remaining in the game, basically closed the door on any Miami comeback.
“Oh my God, he’s a grown man,” Bagley said of his teammate. “He just stayed in the game. My shot wasn’t falling. A lot of the guys’ shots weren’t falling. And he just came up big for us with a couple of 3s and you know he just played his butt off the whole time.”
“It was his night.”
Trent, who is now averaging 14.3 points per game (third-best on team), is heating up at the right time. After an 0-for-6 performance from behind the 3-point line against Indiana on Nov. 29, Trent has hit 31 of his last 60 3-point attempts.
“He’s done great,” Krzyzewski said. “The evolution of how a kid evolves, he’s been good all season but he’s only shot OK. And he’s just worked really hard in the last – he’s worked hard all year, but in the last week and a half – and he’s shooting the ball quicker. Thank goodness.”
“And he was sick as can be against Wake and hit those three 3s.”
After that Wake game, in which Trent scored 19 points, and was 6-for-7 from behind the 3-point line, Trent said he was feeling nauseous and a little dizzy. He was sick and sat with a bucket under his chair while he sat on the bench during the game.
But sick or not, lately, it’s just been hard to stop him.
Pitt (8-11, 0-6 ACC) at No. 5 Duke (16-2, 4-2 ACC)
When: 4 p.m., Saturday
Where: Cameron Indoor Stadium, Durham.
TV: WRAL, ACC Network