Jeremy Jones’ line from last night is hardly the thing of heroes: 17 minutes, 14 points, 11 rebounds.
In the annals of time, it will not be remembered for anything more than a highly efficient game. It lacked the glitz, the glam, the dunks, or the energy. That is specifically why we need to give it some extra attention.
When Killian Tillie went down with the ankle injury, we all assumed Jones would see an increase in minutes. Mostly, that increase in minutes figured to translate into his defensive prowess. Jones is an athletic body which can hold its own with most players of any size. The Zags theoretically had enough offense to make up for it.
Let’s be perfectly honest here: If Jones doesn’t play like he played last night, Gonzaga loses. No questions about it. The Zags, despite turning the ball over 14 times in the first half, despite hardly having Brandon Clarke or Zach Norvell on the floor because of foul trouble, despite looking like a confused rabbit on offense, went into halftime with a seven-point lead over Illinois.
That was in large part thanks to Jeremy Jones, who was borderline perfect from the floor, scoring 12 points. Illinois looked out of sorts as well on offense, but the Zags looked like they went to bed trashed and woke up on the dirty porch couch in their roommates clothing.
While those of us listening to the broadcast were stuck with the volcano, humpback whale, and cycling ramblings of Bill Walton, Jones was putting together a prime Gonzaga-player showing. He did everything required when he was called upon.
Jones sat for much of the second half. The Gonzaga offense got the wheels clicking and it looked like there would be no more issues from those pesky Fighting Illini. But then Trent Frazier happened. Suddenly, with one minute remaining, the Zags lead was cut to two points.
After what can only be described as the most thoroughly useless offensive possession, which culminated in Rui Hachimura heaving a football pass as the shot clock expired, Illinois found itself with the ball, thirty seconds remaining, down by two, and Frazier aiming to pull a heat check dagger.
Frazier airballed it. Of course, Jeremy Jones got the rebound, his 11th of the game. Then, he hit the two most important shots of the entire evening. Jones calmly hit two free throws with 10 seconds remaining to increase the lead to four. Gonzaga could safely win a game they had spent the better part of 40 minutes trying to lose.
Jones was a perfect 4-for-4 from the floor. His only blemish in the game was one missed free throw. Again, he scored 14 points and grabbed 11 rebounds. It was the first career double-double and a new career-high in points.
The importance of defeating Illinois rests solely with the opponents looming at the championship of the Maui Invitational. Gonzaga has the opportunity to play either Auburn or Duke. For Gonzaga to secure a No. 1 seed, the Zags need these opponents. All of that almost came crashing to the ground, if not for a Gonzaga glue-guy performance from Jeremy Jones.
So if you crack a beverage before the start of the tonight’s game, maybe throw out a cheers to Jeremy Jones. Without him, we’d all be in a much more different mood today.