No Comparison

Many openly wondered if Kevin Jones' body simply wore down at the end of last season, leaving him without the energy needed to continue what had been an impressive and consistent freshman season.

The forward hasn't had those struggles so far this postseason, turning in an impressive performance in his team's 77-50 win over Morgan State. The forward famously added considerable bulk to his frame this past offseason, hoping to better prepare him to battle in the post against the imposing big men of the Big East Conference.

"He was 215 pounds when he came in," recalled West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins. "I don't know what he is right now, but I know at one point in time, he was between 245 and 250."

"He got knocked off the block before. He got pushed under the basket. And he's a big, strong guy now."

"I think he just got outmanned from a physical standpoint [last season]. And that hasn't happened at all this year."

That extra 30 pounds of muscle (and the overall better shape Jones found himself in at the end of a long summer working with basketball strength and conditioning coach Andy Kettler) may be paying additional dividends, as the sophomore said he continues to feel fresh as the postseason grind continues.

That showed, as Jones' jump shot -- erratic last week at the Big East Tournament and largely unreliable in the postseason last year -- was true throughout West Virginia's first round rout of the Bears at HSBC Arena.

When Morgan State jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead, it was Jones who canned a series of jump shots to get his team back into contention in a hurry.

He scored nine straight Mountaineer points in one stretch, hitting jump shots from the elbow, the free throw line, the baseline, and one from 3-point range on the wing to start the run that would provide the game its first, and only, lead change.

"I just knew I had to leave my impact on the game somehow, whether it's rebounding, making shots or whatever, " said Jones. "We were on a little slump and I just put it on myself to stop the bleeding."

"It felt good. It felt like I was in one of those Da'Sean Butler zones where you can't miss. I'm just glad I could do whatever I could to help my team win."

That's hardly the sort of scoring binge befitting a guy known to teammates as a "garbage man" -- the one who cleans up the other players' messes, getting easy scores at the goal after collecting offensive rebounds.

But Jones has evolved into one of WVU's most consistent jump shooting threats by spending considerable time polishing his craft.

"I think he's worked really hard at his skill level," said Huggins. "Kev is a great kid. He's going to give you everything he has. Kevin is a guy who really enjoys being in the gym and really spends a lot of time in the gym."

"I think he's like Da'Sean was earlier in his career and Da'Sean still is. If we have a day off, if you go in there, at some point in time of the day, you're going to see both of those guys in there, still working on their game."

While Jones and Huggins both stopped short of saying they thought the then-freshman was wearing down physically as the postseason started last year, the forward said that both the nature of this year's Mountaineer team -- and the improvement in his physical fitness -- has helped him down the stretch this time around.

"I feel like we have a more balanced team, so you don't feel like you have to play yourself into the ground," said Jones. "We have other people that can come off the bench and do as much as we can. So it's easy to be fresh during these types of games."

Considering how well Jones played during the regular season last year, it was easy to forget he was still just a true freshman heading into his first NCAA Tournament game when WVU lost 68-60 to Dayton in the first round that season.

That isn't an issue now, as the Mount Vernon, N.Y., native is a year older and a year more mature, both physically and mentally.

"That definitely was kind of a more nervous experience for me, coming off the bench as a freshman, not having been in this kind of atmosphere before," recalled Jones.

"Getting this win kind of gets the monkey off your back. It's a good NCAA Tournament win. We'll be ready Sunday."

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