Jones’ production off bench sparks Pitt

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Jones’ production off bench sparks Pitt

By Chris Puzia / Sports Editor

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Chris Jones apparently did not take his role off the bench lightly.

Jones, the sophomore guard who started earlier in the year when senior guard Cameron Wright was still recovering from a foot injury, hit five of his six 3-point attempts and scored 19 total points. The effort helped the Pitt men’s basketball team (18-10, 7-7 ACC) win in the Carrier Dome and keep its NCAA tournament hopes alive.

“[Jones] is our best shooter,” Pitt head coach Jamie Dixon said after the game. “You need some guys to make some shots to get in the zone, and we have confidence in him.”

Jones’ strong play on Saturday has continued a recent trend in Pitt’s success: the sophomores.

Sophomore forwards Jamel Artis, Michael Young and Sheldon Jeter, along with Jones and guard Josh Newkirk, have all made significant contributions in Pitt’s recent NCAA Tournament push.

Artis, specifically, has grabbed Panther fans’ attention by force this year, notably with his career-high 32 points in a win over Bryant on Feb. 2.

After playing limited reserve minutes early in the season, Jeter has continued to earn more playing time, as he started in Saturday’s game. One of Jeter’s best games of the season came on Feb. 7 when Pitt hosted Syracuse, and the Vanderbilt transfer scored 18 points in 23 minutes off the bench.

Young also had a strong game on Saturday, as he consistently matched up with the Orange’s best player, senior center Rakeem Christmas, who leads the team with 18 points and nine rebounds per game.

Christmas still finished with 20 points and 12 rebounds, but Young hung with him offensively, scoring 14 points of his own.

In fact, Pitt’s top three point totals on Saturday all came from sophomores, as Jones, Artis and Young chipped in 19, 16 and 14, respectively. Five of Pitt’s top seven scorers are sophomores, when Jeter and Newkirk enter the equation. Artis leads Pitt with 13.1 points per game.

Jones, who shoots 38 percent from 3-point range, also received praise from Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim after the game, though the coach attributed Jones’ success to defensive struggles.

“He really hurt us down there,” Boeheim said. “We just let him have those open shots in the first half and enabled him to get control of the game.”

Dixon typically would expect better production from the rest of his bench — the other three Panthers who saw the court totaled 13 minutes between them — but Jones’ hot shooting kept him, and his team, in the game.

“[Jones] was terrific off the bench,” Dixon said. “I thought we had great performances off the bench from all of our guys, considering the foul trouble we had early and late throughout the game.”

The four main contributing sophomores on Saturday — Artis, Jones, Jeter and Young — all shot the ball efficiently as well. Each player made more than 50 percent of his shots, as Jones shot a hyper-efficient 7 of 10 from the field.

Whether or not Pitt makes the NCAA Tournament, the recent play of these sophomores has been encouraging for Pitt fans hoping for greater success with the team in the future.

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