Jimmie Jones doesn't yet have his name on the back of his jersey. He's just a walk-on. His stat sheet doesn't look that impressive, and he's played in less than half of the Houston Cougars' basketball games this season. But if Saturday night was any indication, then Jimmie Jones could well end up being the Cougars' most important player this season.
For about 33 minutes on Saturday night, the Cougars played their best basketball of the season. The offense pushed the ball up the court at a quick, efficient, effective tempo. The defense kept the high-scorers of the visiting East Carolina University squad quiet while pulling down rebound after rebound. The mistakes were minimal. It was the kind of Cougar squad that hasn't been seen much on the basketball court this season.
In that 33 minutes, the Cougars did everything right that could be done right, and it saw the Cougars (10-9, 2-4 in conference) up 74-50 with 7:46 remaining in the game. Unfortunately, college basketball games are 40 minutes long, and over the next 6:37 the Cougars would be outscored 26-3 by a ECU team (9-10, 0-5 in conference) that went into a full-court press, forcing turnover after turnover, causing the Coogs to waste timeout after timeout, and saw missed shot after missed shot.
Then ECU hit the wall. Trailing 76-75 after ECU's Robert Sampson (son of Ralph Sampson) hit a jumper with 2:23 remaining, ECU had numerous chances remaining to take the lead -- particularly when Darrius Morrow missed a point blank lay-up at the 1:17 mark. ECU scored one more point the rest of the way while the Cougars were able to put up six more, sealing the 82-76 win with a TaShawn Thomas dunk just before the buzzer.
But the star of the game, the talk of the post-game, was Jimmie Jones, the 5-10 walk-on with no name on his jersey who put in 21 minutes on the court, operating the offense to near perfection while playing some excellent defense.
The play of Jones wasn't that much of a surprise to Dickey or the rest of the team. They've seen him time and time again in practice as he's gone about mastering the offense while, at most practices, also operating the offenses of the upcoming opposition.
"He's really been a great addition for us," Dickey said. "And we really do have confidence in putting him."
Jones got some playing time earlier in the season, but after his first game against UTSA, where he turned the ball over twice in his first minutes, it would seem that Dickey's confidence was misplaced and that he was nothing but a walk-on serving as practice fodder for the starters.
"He works so hard every day in practice," Dickey said. "Makes us better. I thought he gave us a great spark tonight....Smart. Knows how to play. Makes everybody else around him better."
But Jones wasn't the only topic of discussion, and Dickey used his time to apologize for the team's seeming non-ability to break the ECU press. The team works on it daily, Dickey said, constantly. But the execution was missing tonight. And though the team's been working on it a lot, it's obvious that a lot more work still needs to be done.
"We knew what the [ECU] press was going to be like," Dickey said. "We just did not handle it with the confidence we need to. And we'll see it again after that last seven minutes."
Now if the Cougars can find a way to play for 40 minutes like they did the first 33 minutes, this team might end up being dangerous in conference play. Especially if Jimmie Jones keeps operating the offense the way he did on Saturday night.
Darian Thibodeaux missed a good amount of the first half after getting a finger to the face, just below the eyeball. Despite suffering from a corneal abrasion, he returned to play for the second half, and his teammates credited his insistence on returning to the game to their not giving up when things started getting really close in the second half....TaShawn Thomas finished with 17 points and 12 rebounds for the Coogs. Thomas' 10 first half rebounds were more than ECU was able to gather for the half.
Meanwhile, over at Rice, the Owls were demolished by Tulsa, losing 70-46. It's a loss that, perhaps more than anything else done this season, shows the importance of forward Arsalan Kazemi to the Rice lineup. He sat out the game due to his injured knee, and the Rice offense was totally shut down. The Owls say that he should be able to return to action on Wednesday when the Owls travel to Memphis.