The Closer

Former Searcy star and Arkansas target Jamal Jones had a team-high 25 points - including 11 in the final five minutes - to lead his Lee College team over Hagerstown 104-97 Monday afternoon at the national junior college tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas.

HUTCHINSON, Kan. - With his Lee College team in need of him to close out the game on Monday afternoon, former Searcy star Jamal Jones did just that in the opening round of the NJCAA Division I National Championship.

Jones – an Arkansas recruiting target who had a game-high 25 points and eight rebounds - converted an old-fashioned three-point play and then added eight free throws down the stretch as Lee ousted Hagerstown 104-97 in a fast-paced opener.

Jones, who had 11 points in the final five minutes, was 7-of-16 from the field with two 3-pointers and 9-of-9 from the line with Razorback head coach Mike Anderson and assistants Melvin Watkins and T.J. Cleveland looking on.

"I talked to Coach Anderson and Coach T.J. two days before we left," Jones said. "It would be great to come back and be a Razorback."

Jones does not have an offer from scholarship-strapped Arkansas, but they may change if both B.J. Young and Marshawn Powell leave to play professionally as speculated.

He does have offers from Texas A&M, West Virginia, San Diego State and TCU, but obviously hopes for that one from the Razorbacks.

"I know they play hard and that BJ might go pro and they may need somebody to come in and score for them," Jones said. "I know that I could come in and add scoring and some leadership."

Jones originally signed with Ole Miss, but was dismissed along with leading scorer Dundrecus Nelson when he ran into legal trouble.

He says that is behind him and he has matured.

"I have changed completely and I knew I had to," Jones said. "This is my last chance. My last shot. I have matured as a person and I know that I have to do the right things all the time.

"My ball handling has gotten better, but so has my leadership," Jones added. "If you'll remember back to high school I wasn't a leader at all and got too many techs. I'm not that guy anymore."

Jones wanted to be a Razorback out of high school, but was part of a talented 2011 class in Arkansas that also included current Arkansas players Rashad Madden and Hunter Mickelson as well as Aaron Ross, who didn't make it to campus.

Former Arkansas head coach John Pelphrey chose to sign BJ Young and former Razorback DeVonta Abron to go along with that trio and didn't offer Jones.

As it turned out, Jones believes playing for Anderson is more suited for him than Pelphrey anyway.

"I feel like coming out I got overlooked, but all those guys were very good players and it just happened I was in there the same year with them," Jones said. "That was just the hand I was dealt and I signed with Ole Miss.

"But I think it is better for me with Coach Anderson any way," Jones said. "Coach Pelphrey was more hands on and Coach Anderson lets you play. And his system is up tempo which fits me."

Jones, who averaged 23 points and 6 rebounds in high school, has yet to set up any visits as of yet.

"I am waiting until we get done here to start doing that," Jones said. "It is all about winning the tournament right now."

Jones and 21st-seeded Lee (25-10) advance to play Vincennes (31-2) Tuesday night at 8:30 p.m in the tournament, which is a 24-team, single-elimination format this season.

It is the first trip to the national tournament for both Lee and its head coach Roy Champagne.

"We play different from night to night so you just never know whether we are going to get up 20 or down 20, but we are always fighting to the end," Lee head coach Roy Champagne said. "We never led one minute in one of regional games until this guy (Jones) hit a 25-foot 3-pointer with three seconds left in the game to win it for us."

Ironically, Jones leads Lee in scoring at 17 points a game, but does so coming off the bench along with second-leading scorer Trashon Burrell.

"It's a nice feeling as a coacj to know you have 40 points or so that you can bring off the bench," Champagne said. "I forget the reason that we didn't start JJ one game, but he came off the bench and had a big game that night and he texted me later and said he'd be glad to do that if that is what was best for the team.

"So he's been doing that and it's been a real big plus for us and JJ," Champange added. "He gets a feel for the game sitting over there to start of with and then just comes in and explodes for us."

Jones and 6-8 LSU signee Deng Deng (20 points, 12 rebounds) are both versatile forwards on a team that lost its 6-11 center to a knee injury before the season started.

"We don't have any butts on our bigs, but we are very long and we try to play to our strengths," Champagne said. "This team has been a joy to coach."

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Arkansas coaches will be back on Tuesday to see two other prospects in New Mexico' College's Desmond Lee (6-4, 195) - who has an offer from the Razorbacks - and Connors State point guard Hakeem Harris (6-1, 200).

Harris will play at 10 a.m. and Lee at 4:30 p.m.





Jamal Jones


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