MSU’S JONES TURNS TABLES ON ARKANSAS
Early in Tuesday’s 78-63 SEC win over Arkansas, Mississippi State coach Richard Williams took Dontae’ Jones out and sat him on the bench.
He had to.
Jones, a 6-foot-7 junior forward from Nashville by way of Northeast Community College, was making a turnover a minute against the kamikaze Razorbacks.
Dontae’ couldn’t help it. He was pumped. Earlier in the day he had met ESPN’s roundball motor mouth, Dick Vitale. The thrill of playing the Hogs on national TV in front of Dicky V was too much for the excitable Jones to handle.
“My adrenaline was flowing like a river,” said Jones, clutching his autograph copy of Vitale’s new book Holding Court. “I made some careless mistakes early in the game. Coach (Williams) told me to relax and slow down.”
“It wasn’t just Dontae’,” Williams said. “Some of our other players were making some mistakes in the first four minutes. Dontae’ was so hyped up. He was so hyper, he couldn’t think where to go out there on the floor.”
A slightly toned down Jones entered the game moments later to play a strong 34 minutes, score 14 points, grab six rebounds and block one shot. Jones scored all three of his first-half field goals in the paint. One was a short fade-away. In the second half he nailed two medium-range jumpers.
Arkansas coach Nolan Richard said Jones’ baskets were the killers.
“He was turning around, falling down, falling back,” Richard said. “He made three of those shots that, really, I thought probably hurt us more than the other shots.”
Jones’ most spectacular play came in the second half when he leaped up to snatch an attempted Arkansas shot and was called for goal tending. One replay showed the ball was coming up short of the rim.
“The referee told me it had a chance to go in,” Williams said, then smiled. “They are never wrong.”
Jones, who had to sit out one game (Georgia) last week while a discrepancy in his transcript from Northeast was cleared up, has put together two solid games. In State’s 78-75 overtime win Sunday over Auburn, he scored a career-high 22 points and collected a career-best 13 rebounds.
The one-game suspension really floored the likable youngster, who raised the eyebrows of the basketball world when he passed 36 hours this summer in order to be eligible at State.
“I had an empty feeling,” he said. “There was nothing I could do about it. I had no control of anything. I hope that’s the end of it. At the beginning of the year they (the NCAA) did an evaluation of everything. I thought it was over.”
Back in the hunt
Two weeks ago the Bulldogs could have been given up for dead. They had lost four of five games and dropped quickly out of the national rankings.
But starting with a 60-59 win over Tennessee Jan. 27 the Bulldogs have now won four straight to improve to 15-5 overall and to 7-4 in the SEC West.
“If we had listened to what the fans thought about us we wouldn’t be worth a flip,” State senior forward Russell Walters said. “This win (over Arkansas) puts us back where we want to be in the hunt for the Western Division championship.”
What’s been the difference?
Point guard Marcus Bullard, who scored a career-high 24 points against the Razorbacks, said: “It’s our effort. Now we’re playing with tremendous intensity. We’re learning about each other and playing good team ball.”
Sounds good to me.
Gene Phelps is sports editor for the Daily Journal.