Greg Jones’ effort a bright spot for UMass men’s basketball in its loss

Jones finished with 12 points, eight rebounds

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McKenna Premus / Daily Collegian

By Joseph Aliberti, Assistant Sports Editor

High energy, effort and toughness is what Massachusetts men’s basketball coach Matt McCall says Greg Jones brings to his team. Jones found himself in a larger role Saturday evening, scoring a season-high 12 points and grabbing eight rebounds in the 66-57 loss to North Texas.

“As a coach, you should never be worried about having to coach effort, but unfortunately sometimes we do, and we don’t ever have to with [Jones]” McCall said. “… [Jones is] infectious and I think even at times in practice sometimes when [Jones] is so vocal, so energetic, playing with so much effort. When someone on his team is not, that frustrates him.”

“We never have to worry about [a lack of effort] with him and we rolled with him tonight because of it.”

Jones’ performance was at its best during an 11-0 run early in the second half, scoring six of the 11 points himself. Noah Fernandes drew multiple defenders and Jones was in the right spot for easy makes under the basket during a run that brought UMass (6-5) back into the game after being down by 18.

His toughness was needed against a team in the Mean Green (5-3) that will slow the pace of play and cause problems for the opposing team’s offense. Jones was sprinting from the paint to contest opposing 3-pointers, making the extra effort in trying to grab rebounds when nobody else on the Minutemen was able to and guarding North Texas’ key players in Thomas Bell and Abou Ousmane. The self-proclaimed “defensive anchor” was a bright spot for UMass despite the loss.

“[My energy and effort are] contagious,” Jones said.  “The more you talk, the more you communicate it makes somebody else want to do it. One person do it, we all start to do it.”

“The coach has been demanding. ‘Be tougher, do more,’ so I feel like [my performance] helped a lot [with my confidence].

Jones earned extended minutes due to his effort on the floor and has started the past three games as well. After averaging 13 minutes played in the first seven games of the season, Jones has become one of McCall’s major pieces. He has averaged over 31 minutes during the past four games.

With Trent Buttrick cooling off after a hot start to the season and Michael Steadman still trying to get himself back to 100 percent after an ankle injury, Greg Jones found himself as the big man receiving the most minutes in the rotation. In the past four games Buttrick is averaging 24.75 minutes, Steadman 10.5 and Dyondre Dominguez nine.

“When you have a frontcourt player that talks at the level [Jones] talks defensively, it’s hard to take him out of the game,” McCall said. “Rebounds, offensive rebounds, big possessions, big rebounds to help us crawl back from being down 18. It’s hard not to have him out there.”

McCall told media after the game he wants to find eight or nine players that will make help his team win games. Recent history indicates that Jones is a lock for the season-long rotation heading into the Atlantic 10 schedule, which starts Dec. 30 against Saint Louis.

Jones’ team-high eight rebounds were split evenly between the offensive and defensive side of the court, but the Minutemen were unable to capitalize on the nine total offensive rebounds, finishing with four second chance points.

The Southern Connecticut State transfer is also shooting just under 50 percent from beyond the arc this season. He only averages under one made per game but is still an improvement from his 22.2 percent mark in his two seasons prior.

The next game for UMass is over a week away, as the team hosts Fairfield on Sunday, Dec. 19.

Joey Aliberti can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @JosephAliberti1.