Freshman's sudden scoring might alter equation

WASHINGTON — The popular opinion about putting together the best game plan to cope with Duke is to let freshman guard Tre Jones shoot.

He shot down that theory in the East Region semifinal. How Michigan State chooses to defend him Sunday might prove vital in determining which team advances to the Final Four.

“I knew if we’re going to make a run at this thing, I have to knock those down,” Jones said of perimeter shots.

He made five 3-point baskets in the 75-73 victory against Virginia Tech. He made 22 long-range shots in his first 35 games this season.

So Duke has flashed another offensive weapon at a convenient time. Jones had drained more than one 3 only twice this season, both times in November.

If he has open shots, he wants to be sure to shoot the Blue Devils into the Final Four. He knows he might have that chance, so there’s a motivation there.

“A little bit,” he said Saturday. “They’re going to try to stop Zion (Williamson) and RJ (Barrett).”

Jones has turned into a late-season scorer to some degree. Two weekends ago, he posted what was then a season-best 18 points in the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament final against Florida State.

Then came the 22-point performance against Virginia Tech, which seemed to dare him to shoot. And he did — just like the last Florida State game, he made 8 of 14 shots from the field.

“Keep that confidence throughout the entire season,” Jones said.

Jones has made a combined 4 of 16 shots from 3-point range in Duke’s five losses this season.

He said he knows the importance of hitting from beyond the arc.

“I wasn’t trying to take any shots out of rhythm,” Jones said. “Putting in a bunch of work to get to this point. … Coaches and teammates telling me to take that shot. Guys passing and telling me to knock it down. My teammates have unbelievable confidence in me.”

A week ago, Jones had his worst shooting outing from deep when he made 1 of 8 against Central Florida.

“These guys believed in me all year, especially after last game with me struggling from 3,” Jones said. “These guys kept telling me to take my shots.”

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski appreciated numbers other than Jones’ scoring.

“Eight assists, no turnovers,” he said of Jones’ 40-minute outing against Virginia Tech.

Jones said he doesn’t want to force the scoring aspect, but with Cam Reddish missing the regional semifinal with a knee injury that heightened his importance. The Blue Devils compensated for the absence of Reddish’s 13.6 points per game. Jones is aware that defenses key on Williamson and Barrett.

“Even if (Reddish) was in there, I knew they would be helping off Zion and RJ,” Jones said.

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NCAA Tournament

East Region final

Who: No. 1 seed Duke (32-5) vs. No. 2 seed Michigan State (31-6)

When: 5:05 p.m. Sunday (CBS)

Where: Capital One Arena, Washington

Series: Duke leads 12-2, including seven straight victories. Michigan State’s last victory came in the 2005 Sweet 16 in Austin, Texas.

Free throws …

Duke forward Zion Williamson’s 80 points are more than any freshman in NCAA Tournament history through three games. … Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has a team in the Elite Eight for an NCAA-record 16th time. … Michigan State coach Tom Izzo has taken seven teams to the Final Four, though not since 2015 when the Spartans lost to Duke in the national semifinals. Michigan State is 7-2 in Elite Eight games under Izzo. … Michigan State has won three tournament games by double-figure margins, while Duke has won by 23, 1 and 2.

Quote: “Hopefully it will be as good of a game as the billing.” – Izzo