The ACC contender with the shortest bench will be down a man for at least its next game.
Duke announced Friday that wing Matt Jones will not play Saturday against Louisville as a result of the left ankle injury he suffered during the first half of Wednesday's victory over North Carolina. X-Rays verified that the ankle is not broken, but Jones has been diagnosed with a sprain.
Jones sustained the injury with 7:52 remaining in the first half Wednesday night when he drove past North Carolina's Brice Johnson, pulled up for a shot in the lane and landed awkwardly on his left foot. He did not return to the game and spent the second half using crutches to get around.
With Jones unavailable, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski almost exclusively deployed a lineup featuring guards Derryck Thornton, Grayson Allen and Luke Kennard, forward Brandon Ingram and center Marshall Plumlee. Freshman big man Chase Jeter was the only other player to see the floor, and his cameo appearance lasted just a couple minutes while Plumlee was in foul trouble.
It's unlikely Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski will play his starters without rest on Saturday, but his options off the bench are not appealing.
While Jeter was a five-star recruit, he has been mistake-prone on defense and turnover-prone on offense in seven minutes per game so far this season. Duke's only other healthy scholarship bench players are Sean Obi and Antonio Vrankovic, the former a Rice transfer who has not panned out and the latter a freshman who was considered a project when he signed. Together, they've logged a combined seven minutes in ACC play.
How did a tradition-rich program like Duke get in this predicament?
It started last spring with the transfer of reserve forward Semi Ojeleye, the dismissal of guard Rasheed Sulaimon and the defection of point guard Tyus Jones to the NBA — all events for which the Blue Devils were not prepared. The Blue Devils scrambled by getting Derryck Thornton to reclassify and fill the void at point guard, but injuries to Jefferson and Jones and the inability of Obi and Jeter to contribute right away have left Duke shorthanded.
In spite of its short bench, Duke is 20-6 overall, 9-4 in the ACC and just a game out of first place. The Blue Devils have reeled off three straight Top 25 victories over Louisville, Virginia and North Carolina entering their rematch with the Cardinals.
It's probably going to be difficult for Duke to win the ACC without Jefferson and Jones, but the Blue Devils just need to get one or both back in time for the postseason. They've made runs with a short bench before, but never with no bench at all.
- - - - - - -