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Jones leads Irish resurgence

Andrew Soukup | Monday, February 16, 2004

Trailing by six points with just over two minutes left in the game, Seton Hall was barely clinging to its hopes for a victory when John Allen drove hard toward the basket and tossed up what seemed to be an uncontested layup that would have cut the Irish lead to four.It didn’t stay uncontested for very long.Torrian Jones, Notre Dame’s resident S.W.A.T. team operative, soared high into the air and reached his arm up even higher. Just as quickly as Allen released the ball, it moved away from Jones’ hand even faster.Saying he rejected Allen’s shot would be an understatement. The ball landed well out of bounds and started bouncing up the tunnel from where Notre Dame enters the Joyce Center court. Jones finally landed, waved his arms in front of him as if to say, “No way, not today,” and the sellout Joyce Center crowd roared their approval.”I made a play on the ball, and he got a step on me going down the court. I knew that either I had to block it or coach [Mike] Brey was going to chew me out,” Jones modestly said after the game. “I knew I had to block it to make up for my mistake.”His teammates were more praising. “I wish I could have a block like that,” Jordan Cornette grinned. “That’s a hell of a play,” Tom Timmermans added.Jones went on to score five of Notre Dame’s final six points and swatted J.R. Morris’ 3-pointer with four seconds left to secure Notre Dame’s 71-68 win over Seton Hall. And when ESPN wanted to put Chris Thomas on-camera after the game, that gave Irish coach Mike Brey and Jones a chance to walk off the court with arms around each other’s shoulders.Sure, Thomas led Notre Dame in scoring for the second straight game with 26 points. But Jones’ stat line – 13 points, five rebounds, six assists and two blocks in 39 minutes – underlined the important role he plays in trying to help the Irish claw their way toward the NCAA Tournament.With Torin Francis missing Saturday’s game with back problems, Notre Dame had no consistent low-post presence to exploit against the shorter Pirates. But Jones and the rest of the Irish turned that weakness into a backbreaking threat.Because the middle of the floor wide open, Jones was able to penetrate a sieve-like Seton Hall defense easily. If he didn’t flip a layup from an impossible angle that dropped into the basket, he fired a pass to the perimeter for his teammates to drain a 3-pointer.”I think Torrian Jones has shown the greatest improvement over knowing when to drive and when to pass, and knowing when not to force a shot,” Brey said. “And that’s a fine line, because he can make difficult shots.”Sure, Jones had his weak moments, like in the early minutes when he missed easy lay-ups and open jumpers. But he adapted over the course of Saturday’s game – a process that somehow mimics Jones’ progression this year.Few had ever questioned Jones’ vocal leadership, but he had only played in a supporting role. And over the summer, faced with the prospect of playing significant minutes for the first time in his college career, the senior co-captain spent endless hours working on his game.He tried to showcase it all, too, as the season began – by firing long-range jumpers and doing things that were very un-Torrian Jones like. But a conversation with Brey helped Jones realize he had to return to his strengths – playing aggressive defense and attacking the basket with slashing drives.He has. And it’s no surprise that Notre Dame is on a roll.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of the Observer. Contact Andrew Soukup at asoukup@nd.edu.