Syracuse beat Duke, 95-91, in overtime on Monday, but the Blue Devils may have suffered a far more costly loss in the game.
Five and a half minutes into the game, freshman point guard Tre Jones collided with Syracuse’s Frank Howard while both were diving for a loose ball. Howard was called for a foul, but Jones remained on the floor in a great deal of pain.
“He’s the toughest kid, and right away he says, ‘I don’t know if my collar bone is broken.’ It was hurting that badly,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “I saw it, and it was like boom. I knew he was hurting. I was hoping nothing was broken. You could see excruciating pain on his face.”
Jones was taken back to the locker room area, given something for the pain and X-rayed.
The good news was that nothing was broken. The bad: Jones suffered an acromioclavicular (AC) joint separation, commonly referred to as a separated shoulder
The injury generally doesn’t require surgery, according to several sports orthopedic clinics. However, the recovery time ranges from a few days to 12 weeks, depending on the severity.
Based on Jones’ level of pain, it’s unlikely he’ll be on the shorter end of that spectrum. Duke has declared him “out indefinitely,” which likely means he’ll miss Saturday’s showdown with undefeated Virginia.
“He’ll be out for a while, I think,” Krzyzewski said.
The injury had an immediate impact on the Blue Devils, one that will likely affect the top-ranked team in the nation’s title hopes.
With Jones in the lineup, Duke jumped out to a 12-0 lead over the Orange and led by eight at the time of the injury. Jones had four steals in 5½ minutes, taking the ball from Syracuse on a third of the team’s 12 possessions in the game to that point. He is the team’s best on-ball defender and keys Duke’s transition game.
Jones leads Duke with 33 steals — more than two a game — and he also disrupts opposing offenses. Teams often have someone other than the point guard handle the ball, to avoid Jones’ pressure. That allows teammates to jump into passing lanes and get steals of their own. Cam Reddish and Zion Williamson also are getting nearly two steals a game.
With Jones out, Syracuse was able to settle into its offense, Syracuse shot .541 the rest of the first half, hitting 7-of-10 from 3-point range and taking the lead.
Duke’s offense was also impacted. Six of Duke’s 14 points with Jones in the game were on the fast break. They would get one more fast-break layup the rest of the way.
With their transition game derailed, the Blue Devils struggled to penetrate Syracuse’s zone. Duke hoisted up 43 3-point shots, shattering the old school record by five. RJ Barrett, who ran point much of the time in Jones’ absence, took 30 shots, the first Blue Devil in 51 years to take that many.
“It (was) a big difference,” Alex O’Connell said. “Tre’s a really good penetrator, especially with that zone, so it would’ve helped us get even more open shots and just better spacing, and I think we would’ve been able to feed the bigs a little better.”
To put it bluntly, the team seemed lost without Jones on the floor.
“We’re a different team,” Krzyzewski said. “Obviously, we’re a different team. … Life happens, and life happened to our team tonight. …There is no game plan anymore. It’s a period of adjustment. You’re trying to figure out ways to win.”
Williamson pointed out that the team went undefeated on its summer Canada tour without Jones and Cam Reddish, who also missed the Syracuse game with a sudden pregame illness.
“It wasn’t like a new look for us,” he said. “We knew we could play that.”
Syracuse is a different level of opposition than McGill and Toronto, though, and Virginia on Saturday will be yet another step up. Duke’s struggles with the Syracuse zone don’t bode well for the team’s ability to handle the Cavaliers’ notorious pack line defense.
The Blue Devils will likely rely more heavily on Barrett as ball handler, while also giving more minutes to backup point Jordan Goldwire and O’Connell, a wing. The sophomore O’Connell had a career night, scoring 16 points and showing that he can also disrupt opposing teams. Diving for balls and leaping into passing lanes, he had two steals on the night but also allowed Syracuse to get into the lane on occasion, when his gambles didn’t pay off.
“There are bumps in the road along the way for a lot of people,’ Krzyzewski said. “This was a very difficult night for our basketball program and our team. We’ll figure out ways of handling it.”