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Tre Jones, Jack White steal the show as No. 2 Duke knocks off No. 12 Texas Tech

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NEW YORK — Madison Square Garden was buzzing the way that only The Mecca does on Thursday night, as 19,812 people packed into the World’s Most Famous Arena to see No. 2 Duke and their traveling band of soon-to-be NBA superstars take on a Texas Tech team that was simultaneously ranked 12th in the country and totally anonymous in the city that couldn’t care less about them.

The crowd was 80-percent Duke fans — amongst them Jimmy Butler, who is close with Tre Jones because of his relationship with Tre’s older brother Tyus —  but it was the traveling Texas Tech support that made 80-percent of the noise as the Red Raiders controlled this game for the first 35 minutes.

Chris Beard’s team took Cam Reddish completely out of the game. He had one point with four minutes left, furthering the questions about what in the world is going on with the player some believe has the highest ceiling of anyone in this draft class. R.J. Barrett missed 14 of his first 17 shots from the floor. Zion Williamson, the show-stopper, picked up three charges going up against a Red Raider defense designed to do exactly that, fouling out with 3:51 left after playing just 23 foul-plagued minutes.

Texas Tech didn’t play a perfect basketball game, but it was damn close to it.

And Duke still managed to find a way to win. The final score was 69-58, covering the spread and leaving the box score watchers wondering if Texas Tech was ever actually in this game. Big shots and clutch plays from Barrett and Reddish made that happen.

But the credit for this win, the reason that Duke was in a position to be able to eke out a W like this against a team like that, belongs to the players whose names you may not have known until last night: Tre Jones and Jack White.

“They were huge,” assistant coach Jon Scheyer said. “Difference-makers for us.”

They are, at the same time, happy being anonymous and precisely what makes this Duke team so dangerous.


Jack White (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Jack White was an afterthought.

A 6-foot-7 forward from Australia and a junior that had spent his first two seasons in Durham keeping the seats on Duke’s bench heated for the likes of Jayson Tatum, Marvin Bagley III and Wendell Carter, White seemed destined for another year’s worth of mop-up duty with this iteration of the Blue Devils.

They were bringing three wings into the mix that could all end up being top three picks in the 2019 NBA Draft, and a pair of junior centers — Marques Bolden and Javin DeLaurier — seemed destined to soak up whatever frontcourt minutes were leftover. White was just a guy, that line of thinking went, a player that was talented enough to give Duke’s relevant pieces a fight in practice while lighting it up on the scout team.

But nothing more, we thought.

At no point during the preseason did I — or anyone outside of the Duke program, really — think that White would end up being the piece that made Duke’s four star freshmen fit, but here we are. The best lineup that Duke can put on the floor features Traralgon, Victoria’s finest alongside Zion, R.J., Cam and Tre.

Yes, this is real life.

White is quick enough to switch onto point guards and tough enough to battle in the paint against centers. He was guarding Texas Tech star Jarrett Culver on key possessions down the stretch less than a month after he was guarding Gonzaga’s bigs during Duke’s comeback against the Zags in Maui. He can board, he can wall-up and protect the rim, he won’t get embarrassed if he’s left on an island defensively. That is the definition of defensive versatility, of position-less basketball.

Then there is what he provides offensively: He actually make threes on a consistent and trustworthy basis.

Never was that more apparent than on Thursday, when he hit two clutch second half threes on a night where the Blue Devils shot 3-for-20 from beyond the arc. Duke missed their first 15 threes. White made two in the final 12 minutes. The first tied game at 45. The second gave Duke a 56-55 lead they would never relinquish.

“When it’s not going well and Jack White hits that three, that’s a huge shot,” Mike Krzyzewski said.

He provides the spacing the Blue Devils so desperately need on the offensive end. Perhaps more importantly, on a roster full of ball-dominant talents, he doesn’t need to have the ball in his hands in order to be an effective weapon. No one else on Duke is able to provide the combination of skills that White can, and when slotted alongside those four freshmen, Duke’s ‘death lineup’ is complete.

“The beauty of Jack,” Scheyer said, “is he can plug in for anybody because of his defense versatility. On offense, he doesn’t need the ball. We have enough guys that can make plays. He brings every body together on both ends. He’s really the glue for us.”

“That’s literally what we call him,” Barrett chuckled, sitting in Alonzo Trier’s locker in the Knicks locker room after the game. “The Glue.”



Tre Jones was bred to be a defender.

Four years younger than Tyus, Tre spent his entire life playing up. Soft wasn’t an option, not if he wanted to be on the same court as the player that was a legend in his city and his state before he had a learner’s permit.

Tre couldn’t afford to back down from anyone or anything.

“My whole life I played up,” he said. “I was always the smallest kid on the court.”

Tre is the youngest of three brothers. Everyone knows about Tyus, who is four years his senior. Fewer know about Jadee, who is 14 years older than Tre and has spent a decade working as a trainer for his younger brothers. Jadee is a former Division I player in his own right, and started working out daily with Tyus when Tyus was heading into high school. Tre was in fourth grade, and like every youngest brother in every family on the planet, he wanted nothing more than to be included.

When Tyus worked out with Jadee, Tre would go, too. When Tyus would work on improving his body, Tre would be right there, too. And the way that Jadee sees it, these are the days that molded Tre into the player that he is today. He’s a better athlete than Tyus because he started developing that athleticism at a younger age. He takes pride in his defense because he was the nine-year old that had to earn respect working out with his older brother, the star eighth-grader on a high school basketball team.

Tyus has always been something of a basketball savant, a player whose understanding of the game allows him to outperform physical gifts that, by an NBA standard, are lacking.

Tre’s different.

“Tre goes at being a point guard with a lot of fire,” Jadee told NBC Sports last year. “With his feet, the things you can see, the hustle plays, the defense, the rebounding, taking charges, scoring in transition.”

And on a night where defense was king, Thursday was Tre’s coming out party. He finished the night with six steals, forced twice as many turnovers and staked his claim to the title of best defender in college basketball this season. He did it all while committing just one of the 43 turnovers by both teams on Thursday night.

“Tre plays like that every game,” Barrett said. “That’s what he does every day.”

The oft-forgotten member of Duke’s freshmen class and the younger brother of a Duke Final Four MOP, Tre embodies every point guard cliché in the book. He’s tough, both physically and mentally. He couldn’t care less about what stats show up in the box score as long as his team has more points than the other team. He’s unselfish. He’s a leader. He “makes winning plays.” In a way, he couldn’t be more perfect to play the point at Duke; he’s Wojo with NBA pedigree.

“He’s a great leader, but he leads by action,” Barrett said. “He talks, but his action speaks louder than his words.”

When asked for an example, Barrett said that on Thursday night there was a timeout in the second half, when Texas Tech was on a run, “and after we came out the huddle, he told us we have to play with heart. He’s going to give it everything he has and we just have to follow him.”

And that’s precisely what he did.

Anyone that watched this game could see the impact that Jones had on it defensively. He was credited with six steals, which was probably half the number of turnovers that he forced and in no way comes close to signifying the impact that he had on Texas Tech’s offense.

“He’s as good on the ball (defensively) as we’ve had — Amaker, Wojo, Hurley. He’s in the class with all those guys,” Mike Krzyzewski said, adding that Jones is the best Duke defender since Chris Duhon. “He can make reads like LeBron or Chris Paul did when I was coaching Team USA. There aren’t many freshmen who can do that.”


Tre Jones (Sarah Stier/Getty Images)

Duke is going to go as far as Zion, R.J. and Cam will carry them this season.

No one can, with a straight face, say otherwise.

That’s the Big Three and it’s always going to be the Big Three.

But that is also beside the point: There are going to be nights where those three struggle to get things going. There are going to be nights where Duke runs into a team that can stagnate their dribble-drive offense. There are going to be nights where they need to find a spark elsewhere.

If there is one thing that we learned on Thursday, it’s that Tre Jones and Jack White can be that spark when they need to be.

And the result, in the end, is that Duke landed their best win of the season.

AP Poll: Duke takes over No. 1 in the poll after Kentucky’s loss

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Duke has moved to No. 1 in The Associated Press men’s college basketball poll following Kentucky’s surprising loss to Evansville.

The Blue Devils received 52 first-place votes from a 65-member media panel in the poll released Monday. No. 2 Louisville received eight first-place votes and No. 3 Michigan State, the preseason No. 1, had four.

Kansas and North Carolina rounded out the top five, with No. 7 Virginia receiving the final first-place vote.

Kentucky moved up to No. 1 last week after knocking off top-ranked Michigan State to open the season. The Wildcats fell flat a day later, losing 67-64 to unranked Evansville in Lexington and dropped to No. 9 in this week’s poll.

1. Duke (52 first-place votes)
2. Louisville (8)
3. Michigan State (4)
4. Kansas
5. North Carolina
6. Maryland
7. Virginia
8. Gonzaga
9. Kentucky
10. Ohio State
11. Oregon
12. Texas Tech
13. Seton Hall
14. Arizona
15. Utah State
16. Memphis
17. Villanova
18. Xavier
19. Auburn
20. Tennessee
21. VCU
22. Texas
23. Colorado
24. Baylor
25. Washington

Monday’s Overreactions: Myles Powell, Florida’s fix and Virginia’s shooting woes

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Myles Powell, Seton Hall

Coming off of an ankle injury – the severity of which can probably be debated – Powell went for 37 points in a three-point loss at home against Michigan State. It might have been a loss, but it was still one of the most impressive and entertaining performances that we are going to see this college basketball season.

Powell then followed that up on Sunday with a 26-point performance in a win at Saint Louis, a 3-0 Atlantic 10 team that knocked off the Pirates when they played in Newark last season. All told, Powell after spraining his ankle exactly nine days ago, Powell went out and averaged 31.5 points as the Pirates picked up a solid road win and played well enough to beat one of the three best teams in college basketball.

Not bad.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Tennessee Volunteers

The Vols picked up the best win of the weekend, as they flew up to Toronto and landed themselves a victory over a Washington team that had impressed everyone when they knocked off Baylor last week. Tennessee made a bunch of threes and Lamonte Turner played well despite struggling to shoot the ball, but the key was the Tennessee frontcourt. Going up against Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels, Tennessee’s overmatched frontline won the day. John Fulkerson had 14 points, six boards, two assists, two steals and two blocks while Yves Pons finished with 15 points and a block of the year candidate on Naz Carter.

I was in on Tennessee in the preseason. I am very in on Tennessee today.

OVERREACTIONS

1. FLORIDA IS REALLY BAD, BUT THEY’RE ALSO FIXABLE

I’m ready for the influx of bad Florida takes today because that’s what happens when a preseason top ten team plays terribly for the first two weeks of the season. I’m going to do my best to avoid being frustrated by people saying that Florida was overhyped because Kerry Blackshear was the last guy to commit, or that Scottie Lewis is overrated as a top ten prospect, or that Mike White is just a bad basketball coach.

Well, the latter may actually have some merit if this thing doesn’t get turned around, but we’re not there yet.

Because the simple truth is that Florida is struggling because they cannot shoot. The Gators are shooting 24.1 percent from three this season. The only guy on the roster shooting better than 28.6 percent from beyond the arc is Keyontae Johnson, and he’s the starting four-man. Andrew Nembhard, a former five-star recruit and Florida’s sophomore starting point guard, is shooting 28.6 percent from the field. Noah Locke is 5-for-22 (22.7%) from three and shooting 9-for-36 (25%) overall. He is playing with the confidence level of eighth grader at a school dance.

This shooting cripples Florida for three reasons:

  1. The Gators are built to play small-ball. Small-ball is entirely ineffective when you are incapable of scoring from the perimeter.
  2. Florida’s inability to score means they can’t set their defense, get into a press or force turnovers. That means they are forced to play every possession in the halfcourt, which is a nightmare for a team designed to play small-ball that can’t make a shot.
  3. The entire reason we believed Florida was going to take a leap forward this season was that they replaced their high-usage, low-efficiency shot-jackers with freshman Tre Mann and sophomores Locke and Nembhard. As it turns out, those three have been high-usage, low-efficiency shot-jackers through four games.

The issue to date has not been Blackshear. He’s averaging 14.5 points and 11 boards as the sole interior presence on a team where defenses have not had to leave the paint yet.

He’s not the problem.

He’s been fine.

The issue is, quite literally, everything else.

2. TENNESSEE IS THE ONLY TEAM IN THE SEC OUTPERFORMING EXPECTATION

The SEC has been the most disappointing conference in major college basketball this season. Florida, obviously, has been a disaster to date. Kentucky owns the second-best win on the season (Michigan State in NYC) when the best win on the season was themselves (Evansville’s upset in Rupp).

Auburn has been fine, but the win over Davidson does not look nearly as good today as it did when it happened. Arkansas has looked good while beating no one. LSU lost at VCU and struggled in wins over Bowling Green and Nicholls State. Alabama has been bad. Vandy and Texas A&M have been about as bad as we expected.

Other than the Vols – and maybe Missouri – no one in the league has been better than we thought they were before the season started.

3. VIRGINIA GAMES ARE GOING TO BE PARTICULARLY UGLY THIS YEAR

There is a certain faction of college basketball fans that believes that Virginia plays the ugliest brand of basketball in the history of the sport, and for the most part, those people just don’t appreciate a good, well-executed offensive possession or the beauty of a shot clock violation.

Usually, I’d push back against these takes. Because usually, Virginia’s offense is ruthlessly efficient, just really so. That’s not really the case this year. Through three games, UVA is shooting just 20 percent from three. There are only five teams in the entire country that are hitting triples at a lower rate, and given that there are no Ty Jeromes, or Kyle Guys, or De’Andre Hunters on this year’s roster, I don’t know how much that’s actually going to improve.

Should I mention that Virginia didn’t allow their 100th point until there was 5:16 left in the second half of their third game of the season?

4. VERMONT IS THE BEST MID-MAJOR TEAM IN THE COUNTRY

The Catamounts went into Carnesseca Arena and knocked off St. John’s on Saturday after. Anthony Lamb hit the game-winner with 1.9 seconds left. It’s the third true road win of the season for John Becker’s club, who also owns victories over St. Bonaventure and Bucknell.

UVM will get two more cracks at high-major opponents in the next two weeks. They’re at Virginia on Tuesday and at Cincinnati on Dec. 3rd. If they can land one of those wins, and if they roll through the America East undefeated, I think there is a real chance that this group can get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

The Monday Overreaction podcast: Florida stinks, Tennessee doesn’t, George Papas is a legend

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We are back for another rendition of the Monday Overreactions podcast. Rob Dauster was joined by Bobby Reagan to walk through everything that happened in college basketball in the last 72 hours, including an impressive win for UConn over Florida, a dominant performance for Tennessee over Washington and Vermont’s upset win at St. John’s. They also talk through the atrocious flopping rule and how it cost Xavier as well as Monmouth’s George Papas, who set the college basketball world on fire with the most ridiculous garbage dunk of all-time.

College Basketball Top 25 Power Rankings: Duke back to No. 1 as the top reshuffles

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This week’s Top 25 is tough to put together because so many of the top teams in the country keep on losing.

The No. 1 team in the country lost at home to Evansville. That’s really all you need to know at this point. But since they had beaten the previous No. 1 team in the country in Michigan State, it makes trying to decipher the top of the sport just that much more difficult.

To be frank, I think this is going to end up being one of those seasons where there is never truly a “No. 1 team.” It’s the kind of season where there 15 teams that feel like they are good enough to be a “top ten team,” so to speak, but none of those 15 feel like they are good enough to be a “top three team.”

Put another way, there are a whole bunch of teams that feel like they are somewhere between pretty good and very good and no one that feels like they are remotely close to unbeatable.

We’ll see if that ends up being the way that everything plays out.

But for now, I think that it’s fair to say that you can have the top 10-12 teams in any order this week and it would be tough to argue against it.

So with that in mind, here is the Week 2 version of the NBC Sports Top 25:

1. DUKE (4-0, Last Week: 3)
2. LOUISVILLE (4-0, 2)
3. MICHIGAN STATE (2-1, 4)
4. KANSAS (2-1, 5)
5. KENTUCKY (2-1, 1)
6. GONZAGA (4-0, 6)
7. OHIO STATE (3-0, 24)
8. MARYLAND (3-0, 8)
9. VIRGINIA (3-0, 9)
10. TEXAS TECH (3-0, 10)
11. OREGON (4-0, 11)
12. ARIZONA (4-0, 14)
13. NORTH CAROLINA (3-0, 13)
14. SETON HALL (3-1, 12)
15. UTAH STATE (4-0, 15)
16. VILLANOVA (2-1, 6)
17. XAVIER (4-0, 17)
18. TENNESSEE (3-0, 23)
19. AUBURN (4-0, 22)
20. MEMPHIS (3-1, 20)
21. TEXAS (4-0, 25)
22. WASHINGTON (2-1, 21)
23. VCU (4-0, NR)
24. LSU (2-1, 18)
25. BAYLOR (2-1, NR)

NEW ADDITIONS: No. 23 VCU, No. 25 BAYLOR
DROPPED OUT: No. 16 SAINT MARY’S, No. 19 FLORIDA

No. 15 Florida falls to UConn 62-59 on the road

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STORRS, Conn. — Christian Vital scored 15 points and made a key steal at the end of the game as UConn upset No. 15 Florida 62-59 on Sunday.

Tyler Polley also scored 15 points and Josh Carlton added 13 for the Huskies (2-1) who led by five points at halftime and never trailed after intermission.

A layup by Florida’s Keyontae Johnson with just over a minute to go cut the lead to 60-59, but those would be the last points the Gators scored.

Vital hit two free throws with 17 seconds left and Florida had a chance to tie. But Alterique Gilbert tipped the ball out of Johnson’s hands and Vital grabbed it and dribbled away, securing the win.

Kerry Blackshear Jr. had 15 points and eight rebounds for Florida (2-2), falling two boards shy of a fourth straight double-double. But he fouled out with 4:37 left in the game and his team trailing 53-49.

Andrew Nembhard scored Florida’s next four points, including a 3-pointer that brought the Gators within a point at 54-53.

Blackshear scored the game’s first two baskets, but the Gators made just four of their first 13 attempts from the floor.

But UConn had a tougher start, going without a basket for the first six minutes.

Vital got the UConn crowd into the game with a 3-pointer, a dunk and a jumper on consecutive trips down the court that gave the Huskies an 11-6 lead.

The Huskies held Florida to two Blackshear free throws over the final 4:17 of the first half and led 25-20 at halftime.

BIG PICTURE

The loss ends a rough seven days for the Gators. Florida was No. 6 coming into the season but lost to Florida State a week ago and beat Towson by just six points on Thursday. The Gators offense came into the game averaging just 63.7 points per game, while giving up 60.7.

UConn: Highly touted freshman guard James Bouknight has finished serving his three-game suspension following his arrest on charges including evading police in a September car accident. Bouknight, who is due in court on Monday, is expected to suit up for the Huskies in this week’s Charleston Classic, where it’s possible the Huskies could again face either Saint Joseph’s or Florida, depending on how the early rounds pan out.

UP NEXT

Florida: The Gators face Saint Joseph’s in the Charleston Classic on Thursday.

UConn: The Huskies also travel to Charleston and face Buffalo in the first round of the tournament on Thursday.