Duke scrambles to adjust after Tre Jones injury

Zion Williamson describes the look he saw on Tre Jones’ face after Jones suffered an injury in the first half vs. Syracuse and how Duke needs to respond. (0:24)

DURHAM, N.C. — Mike Krzyzewski summed things up pretty succinctly after Duke’s 95-91 overtime loss to Syracuse in which star point guard Tre Jones left with a shoulder injury early in the first half.

“There was no game plan for that,” Krzyzewski said. “You just try to survive.”

Duke likely will be in survival mode for the foreseeable future. The good news is that X-rays showed Jones’ right shoulder isn’t broken. The bad news is the sprain could sideline the freshman for “a while,” according to Krzyzewski. Duke announced after the game that Jones suffered an acromioclavicular (AC) joint separation and is out indefinitely.

The injury came with 14:23 left in the first half. Jones had stolen the ball from Paschal Chukwu under the Syracuse basket and pushed it out to the key, where Frank Howard made a beeline to grab it back. The two collided, and Jones hit the floor hard, writhing in pain.

Zion Williamson said he knew it was serious the second he saw Jones’ face.

“Tre usually pops right back up,” Williamson said, “but as a basketball player that has a few tough injuries, I saw the look on his face, and that wasn’t a look of, ‘OK, I can play through it.’ It was a look of, ‘I’ve never had that type of pain.'”

Unranked Syracuse knocked off No. 1 Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday. The Blue Devils were without two starters. Cam Reddish missed the game with an illness and point guard Tre Jones left with a shoulder sprain and could be out a while.

Krzyzewski and trainers surrounded Jones, who told his coach he thought his collarbone was broken. It wasn’t, but the pain was still immense, and the injury potentially serious.

“You could see excruciating pain on his face,” Krzyzewski said.

Trainers gave Jones painkillers and performed the X-rays, but Jones didn’t return to the bench for the second half. In his absence, the Duke defense looked like a shell of its former self.

In his six minutes of action, Jones had four steals. Duke had just four more the rest of the way.

With Cam Reddish also sidelined with an illness, Duke’s stars — Williamson and RJ Barrett — were left to carry the load. Williamson poured in a Duke freshman-record 35 to go with 10 rebounds and four blocks, but he was gassed by the end. Barrett was forced into duty on the point, and the perimeter was not kind. He finished 8-of-30 shooting, including 4-of-17 from 3, and his woeful 0-for-10 stretch in the second half coincided with Syracuse’s march back from an eight-point deficit to take the lead.

“There’s a burden that’s placed on [Barrett] and Zion in that situation,” Krzyzewski said, “because they know they have to carry more. The fact that they tried to do that, I like that. We weren’t successful enough to win, but they stepped forward and put it on the line.”

Alex O’Connell stepped up with 16 points, but he doesn’t come close to matching Jones’ ability on the defensive end. Meanwhile, Jones was second in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio, and it was clear Duke struggled to find ways to get the ball into Williamson near the basket in the second half against Syracuse’s zone.

So, what’s Duke to do if Jones is out for any length of time? Is there an answer when the engine that makes the machine run is in need of repairs?

“There are bumps in the road along the way for a lot of people,” Krzyzewski said. “This was a very difficult night for our basketball team. We’ll figure out ways of handling it.”

But a second later, Krzyzewski was quick to note that there’s no plan yet, and finding one will be a tall order.

Jones isn’t the guy with the numbers, but he’s the guy who sets it all up. That leaves a void — and potentially a championship-caliber vacancy — in the starting lineup.

“We playing for our brothers,” Williamson said. “We’ve had this look before, but we were rusty. And they made shots.”