With freshmen Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow struggling through foul trouble and off-shooting nights in last season's National Championship, Duke needed a spark down the stretch.
Fellow five-star freshman Grayson Allen helped the Blue Devils erase a nine-point Wisconsin lead with eight straight points for his team that cut the deficit to four at the under-12 TV timeout. That's when head coach Mike Krzyzewski subbed in Tyus Jones, who had been limited to four first-half points against Wisconsin's lengthy defense.
Jones had tallied six early points in the second half, but his historic evening was just getting started. The freshman scored 13 of Duke's final 21 points on 4-for-6 shooting, including a a 3-pointer with 4 minutes to play that put Duke ahead for good, and another triple with 90 seconds remaining that sealed Duke's fifth NCAA title.
Jones, the smallest starter in the game at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, played biggest when his young Duke team needed him, helping him earn Most Outstanding Player honors for the Final Four. Two days earlier, in a blowout victory over Michigan State, he tallied a team-high four assists while Okafor, Winslow and senior Quinn Cook took care of the heavy-lifting scoring duties.
That three-day span cemented Jones' spot in Duke lore, and was a perfect example of the complete point guard Jones had been all season for the Blue Devils.
"A complete point guard, a pure point guard," Jones responded at last month's NBA Draft Combine when asked what about his best traits. "Someone who is a leader and is a winner. Someone who can make their teammates better, who can set up their teammates and most importantly, win."
In his lone season with the Blue Devils Jones, the No. 7 recruit in the country who came to Durham as a package deal with the Chicago native Okafor, averaged 11.8 points on 42 percent shooting and was second in the ACC with 5.8 assists per game. He was a terror in transition, was the floor general for the country's 3rd ranked offense and saved some of his best individual performances for primetime, most notably in two wins against rival North Carolina; he averaged 23 points and 7.5 assists and sent the first game to overtime with a last-second layup.
It's why, despite his sub-par measurables and clear deficiencies on the defensive end, he'll hear his name called in the first round of the NBA Draft on June 25. Jones is experienced for being just 19 years old, having five seasons of high school basketball under his belt (he played with his brother on the high school team as an 8th grader), in addition to spending time with USA Basketball as well as playing under a spotlight all year with the Blue Devils.
He proved to be a capable 3-point shooter, making 1.2 triples per game at a 38 percent clip, and was 17th in the country in free-throw percentage (88.4 percent). He struggled at times finishing at the rim, though he won't be asked to play the same style in the NBA as he did with the Blue Devils.
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Past the Combine numbers, his averages and postseason accolades - he was named to the All-ACC Third Team - Jones is simply a winner. Pardon the cliche, but even playing for a perennial powerhouse with the country's best crop of freshmen and a Hall of Fame head coach, Jones made the plays necessary for the Blue Devils to win 35 games and an NCAA title.
NBA teams looking for smart decision makers - his assist-to-turnover ratio was third in the ACC, 17th in the country and second among freshmen - with the ability to make shots on a second unit will love what Jones brings to the table. He's not the potential franchise-altering prospect that D'Angelo Russell and Emmanuel Mudiay are, he doesn't have the length of a Jerian Grant or the defensive upside of a Cameron Payne, but Jones is banking on his ability to win and step up in clutch situations to carry him at the next level.
"You don’t know who’s going to draft you, what’s the situation with that team or that roster, so you just got to be ready for any circumstance, you have to be ready to go in and be a backup, you have to be ready to be a starter," he said. "You’ve just got to be ready, so I will be."