CHARLOTTE — The comparisons between Tre Jones and his older brother Tyus, who was the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four in Duke’s national championship season of 2015, were inevitable.
They’re both point guards on teams dominated by freshman stars. They’re both known more for their playmaking abilities than their scoring. And both are often overshadowed by their higher-profile teammates.
You can now add one more similarity to the equation.
After Tre’s standout performance in the Blue Devils’ 73-63 ACC Tournament championship victory against Florida State on Saturday, both Jones brothers have displayed an ability to play their best when the games mean the most.
Tre scored a career-high 18 points on 8-of-14 shooting while adding six assists, four rebounds and a steal at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center to earn his own place in Duke lore by leading the Blue Devils to its record 21st ACC Tournament title.
“I feel like it’s just a will to win,” Jones said of the family tradition of coming up big in big games, before adding that another group of brothers — his current teammates — also had a hand in his success.
“All of us came here with one goal in mind and that’s to win, so especially in a game like today, championship game, my brothers had my back,” he said. “Even at the start when I was struggling a little bit, they kept believing in me and kept telling to keep going, keep taking my shot. So with them believing in me, those plays were there and I was able to make them.”
Jones started the game by making only one of his first five shots as Duke fell behind by as many as eight midway through the first half. But a lob to Zion Williamson for a dunk and the Blue Devils first — of only two — 3-pointers in the game in the final minute and a half tied the score at 36 after 20 minutes.
When the teams returned for the second half, the least famous of Duke’s fantastic four freshman starters wasted little time taking over. He scored the first and last baskets of a 10-0 run that put Duke in control, then added two more baskets and an alley-oop pass to RJ Barrett to key another 8-0 run that finally gave the Blue Devils some separation at 58-44 with 11:22 remaining.
“We emphasized at halftime to come out and deliver the first blow of the second half,” Jones said. “Both teams were a little fatigued from the past few games. But we know that if we were able to get stops and get out in transition, we would be able to wear them out.”
It was a strategy Duke has executed to perfection many times this season. Only this time it was fueled by a different leader.
While Jones’ performance might been unexpected to those watching from stands and at home on television, the only surprise to coach Mike Krzyzewski and his teammates is that he wasn’t voted to the all-tournament first team. He had to settle for second team status while Williamson and Barrett were first-team selections.
“Earlier in the year Tre was just happy running the team and he did a great job,” Krzyzewski said. “He’s still happy running the team, but he can score now. We need that and he knows better now. We’re just more balanced.”
And that makes the Blue Devils an even more dangerous team in the big games coming up once the NCAA Tournament starts next week.
Just as they were when Jones’ brother was the one leading the charge.
“When he’s able to score like that, it definitely opens up the floor for everyone else, and he has that ability,” Barrett said of Tre Jones. “So for him to showcase it on a big stage was huge.”