The Duke Blue Devils won Monday night’s national championship game the same way they won the majority of their other contests this season: on the backs of their freshmen. When it was all said and done, Duke’s first year players accounted for 60 of the team’s 68 total points. Without the maturity of these young kids, it’s safe to say that Coach K would still be sitting on four national championships. And while it was the spark provided by freshman Grayson Allen that inspired the team’s turnaround in the second half, it was another freshman, Tyus Jones, who led the team to victory.
The Wisconsin Badgers had no answers for Jones down the stretch. The 6-foot-1 point guard finished the night with a game-high 23 points, shooting 7 for 13 from the field. When the Dukies needed a big shot or a player to make something happen, it was Jones to the rescue. His dagger-three from the top of the circle in the waning minutes of the game pretty much iced the victory for the Devils. Those who had watched Duke play all season wondered if this young guard would ever buckle under the pressure. They would soon learn that it’s on the biggest stages where Jones true thrived. He was born for the spotlight.
When the game had ended and Duke was crowned the champion of college basketball, it was Jones who was named the Final Four’s most outstanding player. Given how well he played during this final weekend in Indianapolis, this came as no surprise. What was surprising was that his performance didn’t just solidify his place as the 2015 NCAA Tournament’s top player, it also cemented his place in history.
Nowadays it’s almost expected that a team’s best player may also be one of its youngest. But that’s simply a recent trend in the world of college basketball. There was a time where players stayed in school all four years and experienced groups were the ones taking home the hardware. But that’s not always the case anymore. Jones and his fellow freshmen were a prime example of that. And yet, it wasn’t just that this young group managed to lead their storied program to another national championship, it was that a freshman took home the highest individual honors as well.
Before Jones biggest this season’s Final Four most outstanding player, only three other true freshman had ever accomplished the feat. The first time this occurred was during the 1985-86 season when Louisville’s Pervis Ellison won the award. Ironically, the Cardinals defeated the Duke Blue Devils in the national championship, and Ellison dropped 25 points to go along with 11 rebounds. The next frosh to steal the spotlight was Syracuse’s Carmelo Anthony. In 2003, Anthony put the Orange on his back and took the team on a magical ride, that culminated in an 81-78 victory over the No. 2-seeded Kansas Jayhawks. Anthony had 20 points in the national championship game and also put up 33 points in the national semifinals against Texas.
The last freshman to dominate the competition in the NCAA tournament was former Kentucky center Anthony Davis. The future NBA All-Star erupted in the 2012 National Semifinals for 18 points and 14 rebounds in the team’s victory over the Louisville Cardinals. His offensive output was less impressive in the championship game against Kansas, but he was the x factor on the defensive side of the ball. Davis’s 6 blocks and 16 rebounds were enough to help lead Kentucky back to the pinnacle of college basketball. And in doing so, he was awarded the tournament’s highest individual honor.
Some of the best recent players in college basketball were freshman. But not a lot of them were able to lead their teams to a national championship. That wasn’t the case this season, as the Duke Blue Devils found themselves the last team standing. The Devils had three freshmen superstars, and each of them played a crucial part in the team’s success. But the 2015 NCAA Tournament belonged to the smallest of the bunch. Point guard Tyus Jones played much bigger than his stature. And in doing so, became a part of college basketball history.