While Dick Vitale gushed about Zion Williamson and R.J. Barrett and the media swarmed the star-studded duo in the aftermath of Duke Basketball’s 69-58 over no. 12 Texas Tech on Thursday, Tre Jones was busy being the most important player on the floor.
The freshman guard was a menace at The Garden, particularly on the defensive end. Jones racked up six steals and helped hound the Red Raiders into a season-high 24 turnovers on the night. But his mere presence on the floor provided Duke with so much more.
Jones came into the contest with the fifth-best assist-to-turnover ratio in the nation. And according to ESPN Stats & Information, Duke averages 0.22 more points per possession with Jones on the floor while also boasting a higher field goal and three-point percentage.
On Thursday night, Jones again proved to be the most invaluable two-way player on Duke’s roster.
On numerous occasions in the first half, Jones halted a Texas Tech run with a steal and consequent run out that would often lead to a basket or, more notably, a lob to Williamson or Barrett:
Tre Jones lobs one up to Zion Williamson for an early alley-oop at MSG pic.twitter.com/fwln0SAbe1
— Def Pen Sports (@DefPenSports) December 21, 2018
His relentless pressure on Tech point guard Matt Mooney was evident from the tip, and he was hounding the perimeter at every turn.
Tech came into the game allowing just over 50 points per game on the defensive end, and their ability to slow the game down was clearly frustrating the Blue Devils. Duke could not get going in the half court offense, and even faced early foul trouble with Williamson having to sit the last three-plus minutes with three fouls.
But while Barrett and Cam Reddish struggled to find their range on the offensive end, Jones made up for it with his hustle and ability to start the break. The Blue Devils shot just 38.3 percent from the field and only 15 percent from deep, but Jones’ determination on the defensive end was imperative in creating the transition opportunities that Duke needs if they hope to be successful in ACC play.
Jones added 13 points, five assists and five rebounds to go along with the steals, but his most important stat? Just one turnover. Time and again, Jones has proven capable of slowing things down and making the right basketball play when Duke’s other youngsters get impatient.
Things are getting tougher for this young Duke team. Mike Krzyzewski‘s squad has already played four contests against top-15 opponents, which is the most in the nation. Now, they have to gear up for an ACC that might just be as deep as it has ever been, epitomized by N.C. State’s upset of Auburn on Wednesday night.
Barrett continues to look more and more like a volume shooter, teams are willing to give Zion the outside shot and make him work the glass and Reddish has not found his rhythm.
But through it all, Jones’ effort on both ends will always give the Blue Devils the chance to win games. So keep talking about the lottery odds and where the ping pong balls may fall for Williamson and Barrett, because this team may go just as far as Jones can take them.