Tyler Thornton: The 'reserve' guard who won't let Duke lose
He had half of Duke’s 3-pointers against rival North Carolina and added more game-defining plays that don’t appear in the statistics.
For a guy who stands only 6-foot-1, Tyler Thornton certainly came up big on Wednesday night.
The junior reserve guard scored nine points, two during Duke’s second-half rally that led to a 73-68 win over the Tar Heels at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
He also kept a couple of Duke possessions alive by battling bigger players to tip offensive rebounds out to teammates. During a stretch early in the second half when Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski went with a four-guard lineup, Thornton found himself playing power forward.
“(Tyler) is just a winner,” Krzyzewski said. “He is a really tough kid.”
Krzyzewski gave Thornton a big-time compliment when he said, “He would not let us lose.”
Thornton has only started four games for Duke this season but that doesn’t mean his role isn’t important to the Blue Devils.
Last Sunday night, he was on the court for Duke’s final defensive stand as Boston College, trailing by a point, attempted a game-winning shot. When Olivier Hanlan’s shot caromed off, Thornton battled taller Boston College players and got his hands on the ball. Time expired and Duke had the 62-61 win.
He played 30 minutes in that game, scoring five points, grabbing one rebound and handing out two assists. While not player of the week nominee stuff, those contributions allowed No. 2 Duke (22-1, 9-2 in ACC) to pick up an ACC road win.
His toughness is not lost on Krzyzewski, a former college point guard himself who relied on toughness and smarts to thrive.
“Sometimes his toughness gets the best of him, you know, I like him because he can get angry,” Krzyzewski said. “I don’t think players get angry like they used to, and that comes easy for me. But I think anger is an emotion that gets you passed being tired and gets you past a lot of things. If anger destroys something bad, it’s good. If it destroys something good then it’s bad. His anger, his competitive was really good for us (against UNC) and it has been overall.”
Throwing him in as a power forward against players at least eight inches taller than him seems unfair to Thornton. But he made it work, something Krzyzewski knew he was equipped to handle.
As Duke continues to play without 6-11 senior forward Ryan Kelly, who has been out since suffering a right foot injury on Jan. 8, guys like Thornton help the Blue Devils keep winning. The win over UNC makes Duke 7-2 without Kelly.
“Tyler is going to be a coach one day,” Krzyzewski said. “He really understands the game, and that is why early on in the season when Ryan was playing and Tyler and Quinn [Cook] were in the game, Tyler can orchestrate things defensively and offensively without having the ball. With Tyler, Quinn and Ryan out there, you really have a smart basketball team. He knows the game and he knows every position, he can tell guys what to do and they will listen because he is one of our leaders, so yeah he pays attention. He has earned his scholarship.”
Duke plays next at Maryland on Saturday (6 p.m., ESPN) and since Thornton played high school ball at Washington (D.C.) Gonzaga, he’ll have plenty of support in what is always a hostile environment at Maryland’s Comcast Center.
While he isn’t likely to be in the starting lineup, his role in Duke’s game plan remains solid.
Feb. 13 Game Summary
|James Michael McAdoo||34||4-12||1-5||4-8||1||3||9|
Percentages: FG .379, FT .565. 3-Point Goals: 5-18, .278 (Bullock 4-7, Hairston 1-7, Paige 0-1, McDonald 0-3). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 3 (Hairston 2, Paige). Turnovers: 13 (Hairston 3, Strickland 2, Bullock 2, McAdoo 2, Tokoto, Paige, Johnson, McDonald). Steals: 8 (McAdoo 2, Paige 2, Hairston, Strickland, McDonald, Bullock). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .446, FT .850. 3-Point Goals: 6-16, .375 (Thornton 3-4, Curry 2-5, Sulaimon 1-4, Cook 0-3). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 2 (Mas. Plumlee, Curry). Turnovers: 17 (Cook 5, Mas. Plumlee 4, Sulaimon 4, Curry 2, Thornton, Hairston). Steals: 6 (Cook 4, Jefferson, Mas. Plumlee). Technical Fouls: None.
A—9,314. Officials—Karl Hess, Mike Eades, Bryan Kersey.