|Jones has been very good, but he had a season-low five rebounds Monday night. (AP)|
HARTFORD, Conn. — Kevin Jones is in the midst of a First Team Big East campaign. He’s been the type of player this season most expected he’d be last season, when Jones was seen by some as the 2010-11 preseason league player of the year. He’s been a joy to follow, and the kid’s not yet gotten his due, by and large.
But he can’t live life 22 feet from the hoop. Kevin Jones is not Pete Maravich. And what Maravich was to LSU Jones is not to WVU. Why am I comparing Jones to one of the best, most creative, dazzling players in the history of basketball? I’m not. I made the mistake of asking WVU coach Bob Huggins if Jones taking eight 3s (he made three of them Monday night) is a worrisome thing for the Mountaineers. Huggins then said this.
“I don’t know, did Press Maravich worry about that with Pete? You’re an idiot if you don’t throw the ball to your best player. Are you worried Calhoun’s going to wear out Jeremy Lamb? Part of what we do is KJ shoots 3s.”
If KJ is going to shoot eight 3s per game, it’s unlikely West Virginia’s going to find happiness. He’s only matched his long-bomb output from Monday night once from earlier this season — but you can afford to shoot 3-of-8 from 3 against Alcorn State. When Jones shot seven 3s? A loss to Seton Hall. Six? WVU fell to Mississippi State.
Monday night, Jones was truly pushed out of the paint for the first time this year too, snaring a season-low five rebounds (he averages 12) in West Virginia’s 64-57 Mountaineers loss to UConn. Jones, who said is confidence is way up this year, admitted he “was assuming the shooting role more than the rebound role.” Jones is at his best when he’s everywhere, not acquiescing and merely taking what the other team gives. Sometimes teams give for a reason, a good reason. UConn does have a terrific front line, but the versatile WVU forward averaged 11.4 boards against Mississippi State, Miami, Baylor, Kansas State and Seton Hall — all teams with plenty of respectable, if not great, talent down low.
Jones was barked out of the paint by recently underwhelming Alex Oriakhi, and by Andre Drummond, who had the best game of his college career. The future NBA lottery pick was smiling throughout the second half as his game and his team’s momentum escalated. Drummond finished with 20 points, 11 boards, three blocks and two steals.
“Coaches said to be physical and he (Jones) won’t like it much because a lot of players don’t like getting pushed around,” Drummond said.
Jones and West Virginia gave it away down the stretch, giving up the ghost unofficially with 4:58 to go, when Jeremy Lamb sunk a triple coming off a Jones turnover, giving UConn a lead they’d never hand back. Six and a half minutes prior to that, the ‘Eers had a 10-point advantage. Huggins said his freshmen panicked — and they did — but with Drummond in foul trouble, only Deniz Kilicli tried to make things happen inside.
You get Jones in there, the Huskies (already in the bonus) might make the game tighter, and even give back the lead in the final three minutes. Huggins criticized his learning guards, when Jones, who was good but tunnel-visioned in how he wanted to score tonight, couldn’t adapt inside.
“Just dribble it and dribble it and dribble it and dribble it — and we don’t pass the ball. We don’t have Jeremy Lamb. We don’t have a guy who can create the good shot,” Huggins said. “If those guys were quarterbacks, they’d be terrible quarterbacks, because they just look at the first option.”
If we’re going to fully examine why WVU is flawed, Truck Bryant also must be drawn into the picture. Because while I’m focusing on what Jones didn’t do tonight, Bryant gave a patented Bad Bryant performance, and in the wake of some really nice ones the past two weeks. He was 2 for 13, “forced a bunch of stuff,” according to Huggins, and really didn’t help the offense out at all. There was no offense for much of the second half for WVU. Credit to UConn, sure, but if the Huskies knew nothing would happen inside, and the frosh guards weren’t able to handle it, then Jones had to do more than roll about the perimeter.
“It’s hard, and we’re not going to get it until there’s more games, but we need experience more than anything,” Jones said. “We’re up 10. We need to know when to take good shots and when to pass the ball around and pick.”
Jones wasn’t distraught afterward. He took the loss well because he sees the youth on this team. He said he takes the loss personally, but remains as confident as he’s ever been.
“Win or lose, I’m always confident with my team, but I’m bothered because this is the third game we’ve given away,” Jones said.
I think the senior’s got to get that final piece into this repertoire. To be an undisputed First Team Big East player, he’s going to have to take games before the freshman and Bryant are able to give them away. That means playing more inside and not taking the burden upon himself to shoot 33 percent of his team's 3s, as he did in Monday's loss.