You will never forget the name Tre Jones. He is the man who destroyed the Tar Heels. He is the reason you care. He is the orchestrator of your pain, your rage, your sadness and your disbelief.
A performance that will be inscribed into the annals of history that are made anytime the University of North Carolina plays Duke University in the game of basketball. Christian Laettner. J.J. Redick. Austin Rivers. And now Tre Jones. UNC-Duke is a story, and these men are the writers.
In the wake of UNC’s 98-96 overtime loss to Duke, it will be easy to say that UNC collapsed. The Tar Heels did so in a similar fashion against Clemson allowing a game-tying shot in regulation before losing in overtime. But UNC did not collapse — it was destroyed by Jones.
(We) were almost dead in the water there in regulation and then in overtime,” Jones said exuberantly in the locker room after the win. “Everyone on the team had the same look in their eyes… we all believed in each other, we all believed every second of the game that we were gonna come out with the win.”
The Blue Devils walk away victorious because of Jones. He was the one to score 15 straight points for the No. 7 team in the country at the end of regulation and into overtime. And of course, it was Jones who made the crucial play at the 40th minute, intentionally missing a free throw, only to corral it and hit a fading, off balance shot.
“Tre was magnificent,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “It was his best game.”
His best game. Full stop.
Even at the end, when Wendell Moore Jr. dashed the final hopes of Tar Heels, it was Jones inexplicably failing upwards — the sophomore guard air-balled his last second shot, but by not hitting the rim, the shot stayed under the basket instead of bouncing away. All Moore Jr. had to do was catch the ball in stride and lay it up.
North Carolina has found itself in an unusual position as constant underdogs in nearly every game since beginning ACC play. But even missing Brandon Robinson, the Tar Heels had hope against Duke. Cole Anthony played one of his most complete games in Carolina Blue, Christian Keeling and Justin Pierce played like the world expected them to when they first transferred and Andrew Platek did everything that won’t appear in a box score to nearly secure a victory.
That’s why the loss hurts, why Jones made himself North Carolina’s biggest villain since Austin Rivers tore out the Tar Heels’ hearts in 2012 — because there was hope that UNC, in the midst of its worst season in a decade, might be able to overcome the mighty Duke.
“Yeah, that’s a tough one to swallow right there,” Pierce said of Jones’ shot with a heavy sigh.
It hurts the players more than anyone outside of the locker room will ever know. Garrison Brooks did what was asked of him and answered questions about Jones, about UNC’s defense, about anything, all with red eyes and tears that streamed down his face. Pierce spoke for several minutes before signaling that he could take no more, asking if it would be alright for him to return to the locker room.
No UNC player will forget Jones, or what he did to them. Because they had a chance to stop them, and they couldn’t. He defeated them.
Nobody who considers themselves a Tar Heel fan will forget Jones either. Because he tore their hearts out too, and brought them the pain that can be felt in the air of Chapel Hill tonight.
The shot he made, and the shot he missed, will be played millions of times in the future. All over the state of North Carolina, the country and the world, people will ask about the story that was written tonight. Do you remember when UNC was almost good enough? Do you remember when Tre Jones became a myth?
You will never forget the name Tre Jones. And you will care, because he plays for Duke and he allowed UNC to hope. And then he destroyed them.