There were a number of impressive performances in Louisville's 88-39 victory over visiting Jacksonville State on Monday night. Led by Montrezl Harrell's 15 points, every Cardinal starter scored in double-figures. Freshman big man Chinanu Onuaku recorded his first career double-double. The team defense limited the Gamecocks to just 28 percent shooting from the floor and the Cardinals won the battle on the boards by 34.
While he admitted during his post-game comments that it is difficult to judge progress from such an over-matched game, University of Louisville head coach Rick Pitino was quick to point out the play of senior guard Chris Jones as soon as he took the podium after the win.
“The best part about the game was the passing in the first half,” said Pitino. “It was as good as I have seen it in quite some time. Interior passing....it all stems from Chris Jones' play. He kept getting rebounds on missed shots and making great passes. I thought that he was brilliant tonight.”
Pitino challenged the Memphis native to improve his quickness and become more of a floor general during the off season and credits Jones' strides in those areas for the team's outstanding start to the season.
“I think everything you see happening is Chris Jones making it happen,” Pitino said. “He's playing like a true point guard. I thought his play in the first half was outstanding. Sometimes statistics don't (tell the story) then you wake up tomorrow morning and if you weren't at the game [you wouldn't know] without question that he was the best player on the floor tonight.”
Jones played 22 minutes on Monday night and finished with a loaded stat line. He matched a career-high with 6 rebounds to go along with 10 points and 5 assists. He also totaled 5 steals, coming within one of tying his career-high. After finishing as the conference leader and 20th in the nation in steals per game a year ago, he currently ranks fourth nationally with an average of 4.0 through two games.
“I can score,” Jones said, adding that, “we have a lot of scorers on this team and I'm going to do what I have to do to for us to win a championship.”
Accepting what he needs to do to win championships, which includes, “play defense” and “break the defense down, drive and kick it,” is an indicator of a seasoned veteran becoming the leader and player that his Hall of Fame coach has been helping him work towards.
“I think he's emotionally- I want to say this the right way - becoming a man,” Pitino explained. “I think that there were a lot of times when he didn't act like a man. Chris has a beautiful smile, a great personality, great leader. There were times in junior college and in high school when he didn't act emotionally mature. I think he's really maturing as a man, and that's great to see. As well as on the court, it's great to see how well he's emotionally changing.”
Drawing such praise from Pitino for his efforts in getting others involved, even on a cold-shooting night, and playing with high intensity on the defensive end, serves as motivation for Jones to perform even better in the future.
“It makes me want to do more,” he said.