Chris Jones saves No. 4 Louisville, but did he get Rick Pitino’s message?
Chris Jones has not been good this season.
In fact, I think it’s safe to say that he’s been downright bad. Entering Sunday night’s game against Wake Forest, Jones was shooting 30.8 percent from the floor and 29.8 percent from three, posting, for the statistically inclined, an offensive rating of 94.6 while using a team-high 25.7 percent of Louisville’s possessions.
It came to a head against Kentucky, when Jones played what I’d be willing to bet was the worst game of his career, shooting 3-for-15 from the floor while firing up tough, contested jumpers in lieu of, ya know, actually running Louisville’s offense.
How bad did it get? Rick Pitino benched Chris Jones against Long Beach State. He played just nine minutes. He didn’t take a shot.
And, most importantly, it seems he got the message.
Jones played the best game of his college career on Sunday night, saving No. 4 Louisville in an 85-76 win at Wake Forest in the Cardinals’ ACC opener. Jones finished with 22 points, 10 assists and three steals with just two turnovers. But more importantly, Jones played within the offense, looking to set up his teammates first and foremost before taking over down the stretch.
Montrezl Harrell 20 of his 25 points in the first half, but struggled to get into the game after halftime. Terry Rozier played well, but he was in foul trouble for much of the game. Wayne Blackshear struggled again, which left Jones as Louisville’s primary scorer. He delivered, scoring 20 points after halftime, including a number of tough, crucial jumpers and key free throws as the Cardinals took control late.
That’s exactly the kind of performance that the Cards need from Jones, but it’s not a guarantee that the issues he’s had this season are gone.
You see, the shots that he made down the stretch on Sunday night weren’t all that different than the shots that he’s been firing up all season long. Just because they went in doesn’t mean that they were high percentage looks.
Will he realize that his play in the first half was the reason that the Cardinals put together one of their best halves of the season, or will his hot-shooting down the stretch drive home the idea that he should be Louisville’s go-to offensive weapon?
Jones is the difference-maker for this team. When he plays like he did on Sunday, he’s the guy that makes them a national title contender.
But he’s also the guy that can shoot them out of a game in a hurry.