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Tre Jones Is The Hero Of Duke’s Stunning Comeback, But Don’t Overlook What Wendell Moore Did

NCAA Basketball: Duke at North Carolina
Feb 8, 2020; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; Duke Blue Devils forward Wendell Moore Jr. (0) and center Vernon Carey Jr. (1) celebrate after the game at Dean E. Smith Center. 
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a great scene at the end of Jerry Maguire where Jay Mohr’s character Bob Sugar, a less caring agent than our Jerry, is confronted by his client who asks why they don’t have the sort of relationship that Jerry and Rod Tidwell have. Sugar tries awkwardly to embrace him but his client knows it’s fake and angrily brushes him off.

That’s kind of how Kentucky and Louisville, Auburn and Alabama, New York and Boston, Boston and Los Angeles and yes Army and Navy feel this morning.

They can all suck it because nothing touches this rivalry. It is beyond all pretenders as it proved again Saturday night.

On Friday, our take was that you could toss out UNC’s poor season because all that mattered was emotion and execution. For about 36 minutes, UNC was better on both counts.

The Tar Heels pushed out to a double digit lead and though Duke cut into it periodically, it couldn’t catch up.

Worse, first Vernon Carey fouled out then Cassius Stanley followed him to the bench. Things looked pretty grim.

Then Duke started to rally. We’re not going to run through it all step by step but with 2:18 left Duke was still down by 10.

Just a couple of notes on the end of regulation: first, UNC missed five free throws in that last 2:18.

Second, on that missed free throw...amazingly, Tre Jones had rehearsed that scenario with assistant coach Jon Scheyer. He knew where to send the rebound and he lined up a bit to the right to do it and then go get it.

If you watch it again, you’ll see he had a pretty good Plan B: Matthew Hurt was wide open and calling for the ball. Jones shot it himself of course and swished it. It’s going to be a legendary moment in Duke basketball.

There is one other thing to talk about in the last 2:18 though, or at least one we’d like to focus on, and this goes for overtime too: Wendell Moore was absolutely vital to this victory.

With 2:06 left he got an offensive rebound and drew a critical foul on Cole Anthony. He split the free throws to cut UNC’s lead to one. He got another rebound with :47 left that ended up helping get Tre Jones to the line for two more to keep UNC in range at 81-79. Take away those two rebounds and three foul shots and it’s a different story.

Our math may be off but by our count, in the end of the second half and overtime, Jones scored 17 straight points for Duke, matching Jason Williams and his legendary outburst vs. UCLA just after the turn of the century.

The only other Blue Devil to score in OT?


By our count, Jones had nine in overtime and Moore had five.

What we were intrigued by though was Moore’s impact at the end. He had a key layup with :13 left to cut the lead to 96-95. Then on the inbounds he went after Andrew Platek and a steal. The ball went out of bounds and was ruled Duke’s.

There was a bit of controversy over the call but if UNC had hit free throws, it wouldn't have mattered a bit.

After that play, which saved the game for Duke, Jones went to the line with Duke down 96-95. He hit the first but missed the second...but who pops up to bat the ball back out?

Moore does.

And who ends up cutting back to the basket with time running out, pointing for an alley-oop?

Moore does.

People weren't sure if Jones was shooting or passing but he said after the game that he wanted the credit or blame on his shoulders so clearly he wanted to take the shot.

Only it was short. And who was there to catch it and put it in as time ran out?

Moore was.

The ball literally fell through the basket as time expired.

Two points here although they are kind of the same: first, Moore changes Duke. Look what he did in this sequence: a layup! Knock the ball out of bounds! Tip the rebound away from UNC’s rebounders - to a teammate! Then calls for an alley-oop as time expires and tips Jones’ errant shot in!

And by the way, did anyone else start to think Lorenzo Charles on that play? It wasn’t exactly the same but it sure reminded us of that long-ago thriller against Houston’s Phi Slamma Jamma.

Jones is the great hero of the Comeback of 2020 but more quietly Moore was heroic too. We said some time ago that he provides good defense (check), ball handling (check), rebounding (check) and scoring (check).

He’ll be remembered for that shot forever but don’t forget the other things he did too. Take one of those cards out and the comeback house falls apart.

It did remind us of Charles but you know who else it brought to mind?

Big Brian Zoubek.

In the title game against Butler in 2015, in the last :30 seconds or so of that game, Zoubek affected basically every play. He forced Butler to take a time out on an inbounds. He made Gordon Hayward adjust a shot that barely missed. He got the rebound. He hit one free throw and missed the second intentionally - then shaded Hayward enough to make his last-second shot miss by, ESPN reported later, the width of a shoelace.

It was a stunning performance by the oft-injured 7-1 Zoubek, with almost all of his career highlights coming at the very best time in the most important game of his career.

Moore is a very different sort of player and he showed us in this one, on a huge stage, just how much he can affect Duke’s play.

We focused on his closing plays but look at his stat line: 5-8 from the floor, 7-10 from the line, 10 rebounds, six of them offensive (no one else got more than two offensive boards), two assists, one steal and one block, two turnovers, two fouls and a total of 17 points.

Toss in the intelligence and poise the freshman showed and it was an incredible game.

Future trivia answer: Duke won this game on a Wendell Moore shot exactly eight years after the Austin Rivers game. What number did both buzzer beating players wear?