When Matt Jones got to the top of the ladder, he tried to focus on the net.

Not just because he’d never cut down a net before, nor that he was celebrating Duke’s 66-52 win over Gonzaga on Sunday and its first trip to the Final Four since 2010. It was because he was really afraid of heights — even the raised South Regional basketball court inside NRG Stadium scared him.

“It was tricky for me because I had to remind myself not to look down and to focus on the net and being afraid to fall,” he said. “When I got up the ladder, it didn’t make it any better.”

 

Being on the raised floor didn’t seem to faze the DeSoto, Texas, native or fellow Texan Justise Winslow. The sophomore and freshman, respectively, 

led the Blue Devils with 16 points each, almost half of Duke’s point total.

While Winslow put on a show in front of a hometown crowd, Jones’ hit clutch 3-pointer after clutch 3-pointer early in the second half as about a dozen family members and friends watched from the stands. It was his first time playing in front of them back in his home state, and he’d reminded people this business trip was not quite a homecoming.

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In high school and at weekend tournaments, Dallas vs. Houston is like Duke vs. North Carolina.

“You get a feel of a rivalry,” he said.

Winslow and Jones quickly set that aside in Durham.

Ask any Blue Devil a question about their points and the response comes that an individual’s points are really Duke’s points.

Still, Jones said during the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight, he reminded a few people that he was from three and a half hours away.

“But at the same time, it’s close enough that my family and my friends could come,” he said. “And that’s the most important thing.”

That and his Whataburger fixation.

Jones, known for his defense, didn’t seem slowed by that No. 5, plain with blue cheese and bacon, a side order of French fries and ... “I shouldn’t be drinking soda, but I got a soda” order.

“I made a point to go to Whataburger every day we’ve been here, and it changed my life,” he said.

The last four days of fast food burgers must have fueled his 3-point shot, too. Once written about as a “liability on offense,” senior guard Quinn Cook called Jones a “3-point assassin.”

“I just felt like a guy that just wanted to win really badly,” Jones said.

He’d thought about the storybook ending: Returning to his home state, cutting down the nets, a happy ending in Indianapolis.

He found it all at the top of a blue ladder.

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