Curtis Jones carried the Lions down the stretch during the road win against Michigan. Without his heroics it is unlikely that the team would have returned home with a win and NET Ranking of 29.
Penn State began the second half with a 9 point lead, hardly safe on the road. Zavier Simpson hit a jump shot to cut the gap to 5 points with 13:45 to play and the crowd inside the Crisler Center was ready to watch the home team make a run. A minute later Curtis Jones made his first shot of the game, with the score 46-40.
Notice John Harrar help the guards break the press and then lead the break, finding Jones waiting on the wing. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Harrar’s feet so far off the ground, he even gets style points for the twist. I bet he had a little bit of a nosebleed when he returned from the rafters back down to court level.
Of the final 26 points that Penn State scored from the time Jones made his first basket, Lamar Stevens scored just 1. Myreon Jones had 1 point on a free throw attempt with 11 seconds to play and the game in hand. A John Harrar layup and 4 points by Myles Dread was the rest of the scoring that the team got outside of Curtis Jones’ 18-point burst.
When Michigan cut the lead to 7 with ten minutes to play, Jones hit a three. There was a scoring drought for both teams of 3 minutes from the ten minute mark that was broken only by a lone free throw by Lamar Stevens. Jones hit a layup to end the field goal drought, and the lead was 15 with seven minutes to play.
Michigan scored the next 5 and then whittled the lead to 5 with 3:50 to play when Zavier Simpson hit a 3-pointer. It appeared that momentum was going the wrong way for Pat Chambers’ squad. On the next trip down the floor, Jones extended the lead to 7 with a high degree of difficulty layup.
After the fact it’s easy to downplay the situation since we know the Lions ultimately won the game. In real-time it was intense. The game was far from decided when this play was made and Seth Lundy deserves credit for his role as well.
Lundy did not get an assist for the pass and he didn’t score a point in his 16 minutes of play on Wednesday, but the freshman made a positive impact. We should not take for granted that a young player would be so cool as to see the opening and make the delicate pass, leading Jones so that he had a chance to finish the play at the rim. It was Lundy’s first late-game experience in a tight road conference game.
Shortly after Jones all but iced the game when he took a rebound coast to coast for the basket and foul shot, building the lead to 10. The lead remained more than 8 points the rest of the way.
Keeping Up With Jones
It has been a roundabout journey for CuJo to get to a place where he fits in comfortably with a team that is in contention for the post-season. In his two seasons with Indiana, the Hoosiers had a combined record of 34-31. Last season with Oklahoma State he endured a 12-20 campaign.
Jones has started one game in his well-traveled career, during his freshman season at Indiana. He played 40 games over two years averaging 11 minutes per game in Bloomington. Last season he was used similarly at Oklahoma State as he has been at Penn State, getting roughly the same minutes played (21.9 last year, 18.6 this year), points per game (8.1/7.4) and three-point shooting percentage (.325/.326).
His overall statistics are not gaudy but his consistent contribution has filled a gap left on the roster when Rasir Bolton bolted for greener pastures at Iowa State. The Cyclones are No. 72 in the NET Rankings, with Bolton shooting 32% from 3-point range. Oklahoma State is currently 85 in the NET so it appears that Jones left a non-tournament team for one that could make a deep run.
The next game will be a reunion with his old team, as the Hoosiers come to Happy Valley. Jones was recruited and played his first year with Indiana under Tom Crean, playing in 33 games during his freshman season. In Archie Miller’s first season at Indiana, Jones played just 7 games and transferred out after the fall semester. That left him sitting out until the spring semester last year, so he only got to play 23 games with Oklahoma State.
It will be interesting to see how Jones plays against Miller and the program that he chose to leave. Since entering college he has played one full season, two half seasons, and then this year. With all the waivers granted to other players, there should be a provision to give Jones another season of eligibility if he wants one. It doesn’t seem fair that the player he replaced was able to play immediately at Iowa State due to a waiver granted by the NCAA. If nothing changes, Jones would only be able to play the equivalent of 3 full seasons over 4 years, while graduating in three years.