Bohls: Jones embodies a Texas team that has come back from adversity
- Andrew Jones may be the perfect embodiment of this risen body, this overlooked fourth-ranked team.
- Texas provided more evidence for lofty seedings and championship ambitions, euphoria for fans.
- Joe Lunardi has already projected Texas a a No. 1 seed in the tournament.
Courtney Ramey sure knows how to draw a crowd.
Especially when he has a basketball in his hands with a deficit on the scoreboard and a dispassionate clock that’s ticking down the final seconds.
Every West Virginia player on the court and, I think, maybe even Bob Huggins were attracted to the Texas guard en route to the basket, his itinerary all day long. But the Mountaineers forgot all about his teammate, Andrew Jones, standing dangerously all alone in the corner.
The forgotten man, in so many ways.
But Jones hadn’t forgotten how to shoot.
This former wisp of a shooting guard, who has filled out his diminished body and never had his confidence wane since he learned three years ago to the day that he was about to embark on the fight of his young life in a battle with leukemia, calmly filled up the basket with the winning 3-point shot with just over a second remaining to play for yet another huge victory.
Another in a long line of them, including North Carolina in the Maui Invitational in Asheville, N.C., at Kansas’ storied Phog Allen Fieldhouse just last week and in the same Morgantown, W. Va., arena where Shaka Smart suffered the school’s most lopsided defeat by 38 points a year ago.
In many respects, college basketball has forgotten Texas (10-1, 4-0 Big 12) as well. With good reason, considering the Longhorns have been irrelevant nationally and have not even won a single NCAA Tournament game since 2014 or played in the second weekend since 2008.
Jones may be the perfect embodiment of this overlooked fourth-ranked team that had too often underachieved in its coach’s first five seasons at Texas but has now won six in a row and sits undefeated in the Big 12.
At 23, Jones understands pressure better than most college athletes, and it ain’t hitting an open three with no time on the clock.
Not when your body has been ravaged by cancer and chemicals and shrinks to 150 pounds. Not when you’ve had hip surgery to repair a muscle tear as recently as late April. Not when you have to be wary of everyone you come into contact with during a pandemic.
Not when you’ve inched forward with no guarantees of good health to the point he’s still only a redshirt junior but has regained strength as a 193-pound guard and become the core of a vastly improved team.
“We believe we’re one of the best teams in the country,” Jones said after his 16 points and four treys. “But we’re not too worried about the rankings.”
Texas is good.
Good enough to reach the Final Four and win a national championship good.
The commentators even referenced Joe Lunardi, Mr. Brackets, if you will, and how he is forecasting the Longhorns as a No. 1 seed.
Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s early. Way early.
As Shaka Smart reminded in the postgame discussion, “I think bracketology is starting earlier and earlier, but the last time I checked, all those projections really don’t matter until the selection committee comes out and announces the field.”
But Texas provided more evidence for lofty seedings and Big 12 championship ambitions and euphoria among good moments-starved Longhorn fans.
“I think this game was a good example of a team that stays together and responds to circumstances that are not ideal,” Smart said.
The Longhorns are smarter than their opponents. After his team got the rebound triggering the final heroics, Smart didn’t use an available timeout but trusted his seasoned guards.
The Longhorns played with more discipline than the Mountaineers. West Virginia got big rebounds in the final half-minute, but Emmitt Matthews went back up for a shot instead of retreating and extending the possession to milk the clock.
The Longhorns were better in the clutch. With just under 11 seconds to play, Matthews, an 89% free throw shooter, missed both of his free throw attempts.
The Longhorns were the more complete team. Sure, West Virginia was without its star player, powerful forward Oscar Tshiebwe, who quit the squad early in the year. But Texas got very little out of Jericho Sims, the enigmatic center who can get a double-double against Kansas but then be a no-show at West Virginia, and didn’t get the usual contributions out of foul-troubled Matt Coleman.
Even without their production and an offense that got Jones’ dagger as the lone trey of the second half, Texas won a monumental game on the road that makes it a real force to contend with this season.
“This team is very talented, one through five,” Jones said. “Even the reserves are.”
It’s a complete team, one that had five players in double figures.
So I asked Ramey, the team’s intense, head-down engine who has come miles in his development, if he was ready for the NCAA postseason to start now.
“I wish,” Ramey said. “But we’ve got to keep playing and got to stay focused and not get too high over a win like this.”
And what areas require improvement these next two months. What would he do if he wore Smart’s coaching whistle?
“If I were the coach,” Ramey cracked, “I’d have less practice.”
Oh, did I mention the Longhorns were looser than ever before?