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Fresh Legs, Veteran Leadership, & Buckets: Everything Curtis Jones Jr. Brings Off The Bench For Penn State Hoops

The Penn State men’s basketball team added its first Big Ten road win of the season to its resume on Wednesday, continuing to turn heads around the conference. The 72-63 victory over Michigan not only marked the second straight win for the Nittany Lions following a three-game losing streak, but also served as the second time this season where Curtis Jones Jr. performed great off the bench in crunch time.

In Ann Arbor, the two-time transfer guard didn’t score in the first half of play, but tied his season-high with another 18 points during a stretch of less than 10 minutes to help Pat Chambers’s squad pull away from several late comeback attempts mounted by the Wolverines.

“I talked to Curtis before I put him in, and I said ‘These moments are made for seniors,'” Chambers said on Wednesday. “‘It’s your time,’ because I didn’t play him that much in the first half. He really stepped up in a big way when they started making their run.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard this theory of Chambers having a certain feeling about Jones Jr. late in games. The senior showed up in the second half of Penn State’s 73 -71 win over Alabama in December, scoring 10 of his season-high 18 points after halftime to help the Nittany Lions rally back from a nine-point deficit. After the win over the Tide, Chambers referred to Jones Jr. as this team’s version of Jamal Crawford.

“I had a hunch on Curtis [Jones Jr.] that he was going to have fresh legs, which he did,” Chambers said last month. “I just felt like we needed some veteran leadership there and some baskets. We needed to score the ball a little bit, and Curtis definitely provided that for us.”

Despite his extensive experience with both Indiana and Oklahoma State before coming to Happy Valley, Jones Jr. hasn’t been called upon very often to be “the guy” this season. With one of the conference’s premier rising point guards in Myreon Jones and lights-out perimeter defender Jamari Wheeler both in the starting lineup ahead of him, the Virginia native has averaged a solid 7.4 points per game on 38 percent shooting in 18 and a half minutes per game this season.

Yet, when Penn State needed important baskets from its supporting cast of guards — namely Jones Jr., Myles Dread, and Izaiah Brockington —during the skid earlier this month, the trio struggled to put the ball through the hoop. Chambers said that despite the rough stretch of games, the team’s overall belief in Jones Jr. and each other never wavered.

“I think it’s attitude. I think it’s mindset,” Chambers said. “The belief from the head coach, the staff, and his teammates. We have great belief in him, and he played with that type of confidence and swagger.”

The consistency in attitude and belief paid off over the two important wins last week, as the team seems to be working together better than ever. Seven Penn State players recorded five or more points during the wins over Ohio State and Michigan, and the Nittany Lions tallied 26 and 33 bench points respectively in the back-to-back victories.

Jones Jr. didn’t do much at all during the Ohio State game, scoring just three points in nine minutes of action, his second-least amount of playing time in a game since he transferred to Penn State. That win was instead defined more by another breakout day from freshman wing Seth Lundy and a bounce-back performance from the sophomore Dread, who has struggled to find his shooting stroke at times in his second season. At Michigan, Penn State received zero combined points from Lundy, Wheeler, and Brockington, but when the team needed someone else to step up, it was Jones Jr. who delivered with 18 points in the second half.

The depth of this year’s team beyond the usual tandem of Stevens and Myreon Jones is a luxury that Pat Chambers has never had at his disposal. That’s the glaring difference between this team and Penn State teams in recent seasons. In years past, the Nittany Lions may have featured five or six solid players at best, but they could rarely get them all to perform well night in and night out over the course of a challenging Big Ten slate.

This year’s group is composed of nine or ten players that can realistically step in and contribute for any other rotation across the country, and the variety of options and looks that Chambers can put on the court is enabling the team to withstand the grind and compete with the nation’s best, even when a couple guys have a rough night.

Continuing to maintain that confidence and chemistry will be a major factor in whether or not Penn State can finally turn the corner from a bubble pretender to a legitimate contender in the conference and in the Big Dance this season. The next matchup for the Nittany Lions is at home against Indiana on Wednesday night. The game will tip off at 8:30, and you can watch the game on BTN.

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About the Author

Mitch Stewart

Mitch is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism from Roanoke, Virginia. In addition to his role with Onward State, Mitch talks about all the #sprots on Penn State's CommRadio. To contact Mitch, feel free to send him an e-mail at [email protected], and if you really don't value your social media accounts, follow him as he yells on Twitter about Penn State basketball @mitchystew.

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