College Basketball

Duke Now: Tyus Jones shows his special qualities in Duke’s comeback against UNC

Duke guard Tyus Jones (5) streaks through the North Carolina defense of J.P. Tokoto, and Marcus Paige to score in overtime.
Duke guard Tyus Jones (5) streaks through the North Carolina defense of J.P. Tokoto, and Marcus Paige to score in overtime. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Quinn Cook was so exhausted Wednesday night after Duke’s 92-90 overtime win against North Carolina that thoughts and words were difficult to form, and limbs were hard to control.

Dropping his arm from behind his head to down at his side, Cook inadvertently knocked an iPhone out of a reporter’s hand. He quickly and profusely apologized, laughing an exhausted laugh, saying, “I’m out of it, man.”

Then the question was repeated: Tomorrow, when people ask you how you guys managed to win the game, what do you say?

“I don’t even know,” Cook said. “I’m still processing it right now. I would just tell them to watch it for themselves.”

The 3-minute, 51-second mark in the second half would be an ideal spot to start watching if someone was interested in jumping to the conclusion, skipping all the preliminary rounds and momentum swings.

Before the Blue Devils could win in overtime, they had to mount a furious comeback. Nate Britt missed a free throw, but Brice Johnson collected the rebound, and Britt finished at the rim to give the Tar Heels a 10-point lead, at 77-67.

That’s when Tyus Jones, who took over the final 1:25 of regulation, started to flash that brilliance.

After the teams traded misses, Jones drove along the baseline, and kicked it out to an open Justise Winslow, who swished home the 3-pointer, cutting the UNC lead to 77-70 with 3:07 left. Coach Mike Krzyzewski called his penultimate timeout.

“It’s not like we drew up anything,” Krzyzewski said. “When they came back, that was on them. We just said, play, man, just play. Follow your instincts and play.”

Before the Duke comeback began in earnest, UNC extended its lead to 79-70 thanks to a tough J.P. Tokoto jump shot from the elbow with Matt Jones’ hand in his face.

Tyus Jones brought the ball up the court, and the Blue Devils worked it down to Jahlil Okafor just outside of the right low block. Brice Johnson left Winslow to double Okafor, who quickly fired the ball to a streaking Winslow for a dunk. That made it 79-72 with 2:23 left.

On the ensuing possession, Marcus Paige attempted to drive through the lane, but Winslow held his ground in the paint, forcing an altered shot that missed.

At the other end, Winslow used a well-placed shot fake at the 3-point arc to drive around Johnson and draw a foul from Kennedy Meeks. That brought the game to its final media timeout, with just 1:38 left for Duke to erase a 79-72 deficit.

Krzyzewski’s message in the huddle was clear: We’re going to win the game.

“When coach says something like that, we believe him,” Okafor said. “I feel like he knows everything when it comes to basketball, so everyone believed it when he said it.”

The Blue Devils were shooting 33 percent for the second half at that point. One Duke player shot the rest of the way in regulation – Tyus Jones – and he went 3-for-4.

That performance, combined with some timely UNC mistakes, catalyzed Duke’s frenzied comeback.

Winslow missed both free throws once play resumed, but Johnson, attempting to save one of the misses from going out of bounds, bounced the ball right to Matt Jones, letting Duke keep possession.

That possession ended with 190-pound Tyus Jones driving parallel to the baseline, through the left low block and right into the chest of 270-pound Meeks. Jones finished the layup, cutting the Tar Heels’ lead to 79-74 with 1:25 left.

While Jones is talented, he is still human – after Meeks threw UNC’s inbounds pass out of bounds, Jones then threw Duke’s inbounds attempt to the Tar Heels, setting up Britt, a 90 percent shooter, at the free throw line.

Britt missed, and the ball clanged off the front rim past him to Paige – but it bounced off his hands to Jones, who started a fast break that ended with a Joel Berry foul under Duke’s basket. Jones made both free throws, making it 79-76 with 1:16 left.

Jones wasn’t done. Johnson made two free throws for the Tar Heels, putting them up 81-76 with 47.5 seconds left. Winslow inbounded the ball to Jones, who needed only 6.5 seconds to drive the length of the floor and, this time, finish through a Berry foul, setting up a three-point play. With 41 seconds left, UNC led 81-79.

“One of the reasons we waited three years to get him was because he had special qualities, not just special talents,” Krzyzewski said of Jones. “It shows up in big games and big moments.

“When he took the wheel, the car finished in first place.”

So of course it was Jones who tied the game with 27 seconds left, a possession set up by another untimely error for UNC when Britt couldn’t control a rebound as he fell out of bounds.

Jones took the ball up the floor again, using a screen from Winslow in the paint to go left and shake Berry. As Winslow impeded Tokoto from chasing Jones, the layup dropped in, tying the game and ratcheting the noise level in Cameron to ear-piercing levels.

That gave Jones nine points in 58 seconds of game time, part of an 11-2 Duke run that forced overtime. With Cameron Indoor Stadium as loud as it has been in years, the Blue Devils rode the momentum through the overtime period to the finish.

“My brothers believe in me, to have the ball in my hands, and that gives me all the confidence in the world, knowing that they have confidence in me,” Jones said. “That’s all I need is their confidence. I’m just trying to make a play and just being a competitor, hating to lose.”

Like Cook, Jones also struggled for words, but he managed to sum up the Blue Devils’ feeling in short-but-sweet fashion.

“Just happy we won.”

Okafor injury update

Jahlil Okafor gave everyone wearing Duke blue in Cameron Indoor Stadium a scare when he landed awkwardly on Joel James’ foot late in the first half, collapsing to the floor with a rolled left ankle. Thanks to some quick work from the trainers, Okafor only missed a few minutes. After the game, however, he left in a walking boot, according to ABC-11 cameraman Charlie Mickens.

His status for Saturday’s game against Clemson is undetermined.

“He has a sprained ankle,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said of Okafor. “It was a gutty performance by him. We’ll see what happens. Sometimes you can play the night of the game because of the adrenaline and everything’s moving. We’ll see if he’s going to be ready for Saturday.

“We can’t practice tomorrow anyway. We’ll try and get him a little bit of rest. I would think he’s going to play, but I don’t know about that.

“For any kid you worry, but he’s special. I was shocked that he wanted to come back in during the first half. Just mentally for him to get over it right then.”

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