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Freshmen help Duke beat Michigan State

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Updated 10 months ago on
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INDIANAPOLIS — The addition of freshman center Jahlil Okafor — he of the NBA-ready body and footwork — has some thinking that Duke has a chance to make its best NCAA Tournament run in a while.

But it was another freshman who supplied the right answers Tuesday night when Okafor hit the bench just past the midway point of the second half with his fourth foul.

Guard Tyus Jones scored all 17 of his points after halftime as the No. 4 Blue Devils pulled away in the final 12 minutes from 19th-ranked Michigan State for an 81-71 win in the fourth annual Champions Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

The 6-foot-1 Jones, who selected Duke over coach Tom Izzo and the Spartans, reminded Izzo of what he almost attracted to East Lansing. Jones canned a pair of 3-pointers, including one that turned into a four-point play when Spartans guard Denzel Valentine piled into him with 7:58 left.

After Jones’ free throw, the Blue Devils (3-0) had turned a perilous 51-48 edge into a 64-51 margin that they carefully nursed down the stretch.

“I wasn’t looking at it like that,” Jones said when asked about playing against Michigan State, the school he nearly chose. “I was looking at it as a chance to play in a big game.”

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was also effusive about the play of Jones’ backcourt mate, senior Quinn Cook. In 36 minutes, Cook scored a game-high 19 points, dished out six assists and committed no turnovers.

“His leadership was special tonight,” Krzyzewski said of Cook. “For our freshmen, this was their first big college game. They use up a lot of emotion early and maybe get tired. An older guy like Quinn, you could tell he’s been through this before.”

As for Okafor, he sank eight of 10 field goals and scored 17 points despite sitting out most of the last 8:59 after drawing an offensive foul for his fourth personal. That included a textbook drop step move along the baseline for a reverse layup that probably had many of the NBA scouts in attendance drooling.

Krzyzewski, who said just before the season started that the 6-foot-11 Okafor would be a one-and-done guy, said Okafor learned from the experience of playing a physical opponent like the Spartans.

“They didn’t double him like the first two opponents did,” Krzyzewski said. “They were really physical with him. That’s something he’ll see a lot more of along the way.”

Freshman forward Justise Winslow added 15 points and a team-high six rebounds for the Blue Devils, including a runner in the lane with 11:49 remaining that started their game-sealing 13-3 spurt.

Forward Branden Dawson scored a team-high 18 points and hauled in a game-high nine rebounds for Michigan State (1-1). Senior guard Travis Trice filled the stat sheet with 15 points, eight assists and six rebounds, while Valentine contributed 13 points.

Coming off an unimpressive 64-59 win Friday night at Navy, the Spartans ran their offense well at times and canned 50 percent of their shots. But they couldn’t find a way to stop Duke and also struggled with turnovers, coughing up 13 that led to 24 points.

“We’re not a good defensive team right now and we won’t be until we get a couple of guys back,” Izzo said. “We did some good things and then we did some not-so-good things. Overall, I’ll take more positives out of this than bad things.”

NOTES: Duke won its first two games by at least 50 points, marking the first time that happened since 1997-98. … Michigan State played its 187th game against a ranked team since the start of the 1997-98 season. That’s 20 more than any other Division I program. … The Blue Devils are ranked in the Top 25 for the 138th consecutive week, the longest current streak.

Up to the minute news and reports from the news wire of The Sports Xchange.

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