Great news for the No. 2-ranked Blue Devils, yes. Equally encouraging, though, is the way Duke adapted in his absence, which meant going to a zone defense for an extended period earlier this week.
“We just stayed zone,” coach Mike Krzyzewski said, noting that a good stretch in a 79-64 win at Pittsburgh allowed his strategy to hold up.
Duke played lots of zone across the final two months of last season, although Jones’ on-the-ball defense allowed a return to man-to-man alignments this season.
The Blue Devils (16-2, 5-1 ACC) share first place in the league and are back in action Saturday afternoon against visiting Georgia Tech (11-8, 3-3) at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Duke relies heavily on freshmen to do the scoring, particularly RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson. Combined with Cam Reddish, the Blue Devils have mounds of production from first-year players. Eleven times this season, two Duke freshmen have combined to rack up 50 or more points in a game.
Barrett, who is coming off a 26-point outing at Pittsburgh on Tuesday, has reached the 20-point mark in 15 games.
Williamson showed remarkable efficiency against the Panthers, making his first 10 shots of the game and finishing with 25 points that included 11-of-13 shooting from the field.
“If the shot was not there, I didn’t force it,” Williamson said. “I am surrounded by great shooters and great players. I can just kick it out and I know my teammates will make plays.”
That kick-it-out philosophy worked, too, as Williamson posted a season-high seven assists.
Jones hasn’t played since the opening minutes of a Jan. 14 game against Syracuse, when he suffered a separated shoulder. He has missed two full games.
In the latest game, Jordan Goldwire played some at point guard, but mostly Barrett has taken on extra ball-handling duties.
“You have seen many different guys step up at many different times,” Barrett said.
Georgia Tech is coming off a 63-61 victory against visiting Notre Dame, snapping a two-game losing streak.
That game marked the return of guard Jose Alvarado, who holds a team-best 13.8 points per game, and forward Abdoulaye Gueye from injuries. Still, it took that duo time to get rolling.
“We are a better team with them,” Georgia Tech coach Josh Pastner said. “(They) were a little rusty in the first half. We missed just a lot of short shots, and part of that is I felt (those two) did not play well in the first half.”
While the Yellow Jackets were dealing with injuries, it put more responsibility on freshman guard Michael Devoe, who is averaging 8.8 points per game.
“The tension, the stress of the game was tough for him,” Pastner said. “It’s a learning experience for him. He’s better for it. He’s better with Jose next to him.”
Georgia Tech is counting on defense. The Yellow Jackets have limited conference opponents to 67.0 points per game.
“It’s the way we are set up,” Pastner said of the emphasis. “It’s not about anyone’s offense. You have to get your game going through defense, 50-50 balls, charges. That type of energy.”
Duke has won the past 11 meetings with Georgia Tech. The Yellow Jackets own an ACC road victory at Syracuse this season.–Field Level Media
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