- Duke was playing a struggling Syracuse squad that had just lost at home by 14 to Georgia Tech
- The Blue Devils had just won on the road at Florida State in thrilling fashion
- Cam Reddish appeared to have found his mojo at long last
- Zion Williamson was back from the eye-poking he suffered
- Mike Krzyzewski was now the unmatched kingpin of the Associated Press Top 25 poll (122 weeks on top, surpassing John Wooden)
It certainly didn't turn out that way. The weirdness began in the pregame, when Saturday's hero, Cam Reddish, was ruled out with sudden onset flu symptoms.
The mood improved with a 12-0 run to start the game, but the good vibes and the lead were short-lived. Minutes later, scrambling for a loose ball, point guard Tre Jones collided with Syracuse guard Frank Howard. His shoulder took the brunt of the impact.
Jones stayed down, telling Krzyzewski on the court that he thought he'd broken his collarbone. Official word from Duke is that Jones "suffered an acromioclavicular (AC) joint separation." A quick review of internet literature on the subject is enough reason to inspire both hope and potential doom and gloom.
Time to fire up internet doctor with Tre Jones AC joint separation. "ranges from a few days to 12 weeks depending on severity" GULP pic.twitter.com/oNcc2BqhF4— Mark Armstrong (@ArmstrongABC11) January 15, 2019
Jones is far from the most spectacular player on the team, but with no depth behind him, he's the most irreplaceable. Zion is the phenomenon, RJ Barrett is the scoring machine but--to borrow a Reggie Jackson turn of phrase--it's Jones that stirs the drink with his headiness and distribution. Jordan Goldwire tried to step in Monday night, but he's in no way equipped for the job.
Absent Jones, Syracuse stormed back into the game.
RJ Barrett spent most of the time as chief orchestrator of the Duke offense from that point on and had the assist numbers to show for it: nine dimes against just one turnover.
The problem is: He jacked up 17 three-pointers against the Orange zone, hitting only four, and he never got to the foul line in the second half or overtime. That effectively played right into Syracuse's hands down the stretch.
Jones likely changes all that. Not only is Barrett not tempted to shoot nearly as often from deep, Tre likely would've been delivering the ball to him in better, more customary scoring positions. Zion Williamson also probably sees more of the ball. As huge as he was, with 35 points, Barrett still attempted 10 more field goals, an equation that didn't add up on this night.
Jack White going 0-10 was no help of course either, but that was a sub-plot.
Where Duke goes from here without Jones should be very interesting.
They've still got the most top shelf talent in the entire ACC, but it's a hot rod lineup that's missing its driver.
They'll get the ultimate test Saturday, when Virginia comes to town. Reddish you'd anticipate will be back, but Jones returning would be a big surprise based on what we know now.
Against the Cavs, there's zero margin for error, so we'll see if a dented Duke team is up to the challenge.
Duke is now 104-1 all-time at home as No. 1 against teams not named North Carolina.— Bryan Ives (@awaytoworthy) January 15, 2019
They are 3-3 vs North Carolina.