Duke Basketball: Bench Players Who Will Have Big Role Against UNC

Sam StrykerContributor IIIFebruary 13, 2013

Freshman forward Amile Jefferson should be a big contributor against UNC tonight.
Freshman forward Amile Jefferson should be a big contributor against UNC tonight.Grant Halverson/Getty Images

When No. 2-ranked Duke squares off tonight against archrival UNC in front of the Cameron Crazies, don’t expect just the star Blue Devils to contribute.

Several bench players will have an impact on how Duke performs in tonight’s ACC clash. 

Senior guard Seth Curry and senior forward Mason Plumlee may power the high-octane Duke offense, currently ranked 11th in the nation in points per game, but Duke is going to need some role players to step up against the Tar Heels in Cameron Indoor tonight. 

UNC is ranked in the top 10 in the nation in points per game, rebounds per game and assists per game. Duke should be on upset alert, because they perform especially poorly on the boards, averaging just 35.2 per game, 161st in the NCAA. 

One such bench player who is going to play a key role for the Blue Devils is junior guard Tyler Thornton. Even coming off the bench, Thornton ranks second on the team in assists and steals, with 2.6 assists per game and 1.3 steals per game. 

Thornton throws in a good-but-not-great 33.3 three-point percentage and is capable of playing a lot of minutes to spell the starters (he averages 21.3 minutes per game). 

Thornton is a spark plug for the Blue Devils and can help keep the Duke starters fresh in what should be a close game. He also should keep the Tar Heels offense honest.

Freshman forward Amile Jefferson has actually started the last few games for the Blue Devils. Whether he comes off the bench or is on the floor for tip-off, he’s a big factor for Duke. 

Standing 6'8", Jefferson has stepped it up recently for Duke, nearly recording a double-double against Maryland on Jan. 26 and dropping 11 on Florida St. on Feb. 2. 

The freshman is only averaging 13.6 minutes and 3.2 rebounds per game on the season, so he is going to need to contribute more tonight in Cameron Indoor. Jefferson has proven he has the finesse to play deep into games—he played 29 minutes against Florida St. and 25 against NC State on Feb. 7.

With the Tar Heels such a strong rebounding team—they’re tied for fourth in the nation with 41.7 per game—and Duke lacking in that department, expect Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewksi to rely on Jefferson in tonight’s clash against interstate rival UNC.

All statistics compiled from ESPN.