Jones rises to occasion in late-game scenarios

By: Scottie Bordelon
Published: Wednesday, November 27, 2019
Arkansas guard Mason Jones (15) reacts after hitting the game-winning 3-pointer in overtime of an NCAA college basketball game against Georgia Tech Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, in Atlanta. Arkansas won 62-61. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik)
Arkansas guard Mason Jones (15) reacts after hitting the game-winning 3-pointer in overtime of an NCAA college basketball game against Georgia Tech Monday, Nov. 25, 2019, in Atlanta. Arkansas won 62-61. (AP Photo/Danny Karnik)

FAYETTEVILLE — Believe it or not, Mason Jones had never hit a game-winning shot in his basketball career prior to coming to Arkansas ahead of the 2018-19 season.

After Monday night's win at Georgia Tech in which he banked in a last-second 3-pointer from roughly 25 feet to down the Yellow Jackets 62-61 in overtime, Jones now has two go-ahead field goals and a game-winning free throw to his credit in 40 games with the Razorbacks.

In his postgame interview with Arkansas radio play-by-play broadcaster Chuck Barrett, Razorbacks coach Eric Musselman said he didn't call for Jones' shot to go off glass, but he knew he had the right guy taking the shot.

"Some guys rise to the occasion, some guys shy away from it," Musselman said Wednesday. "I think Mason wants to take big shots."

Jones, who finished with a game-high 24 points at Georgia Tech, said it is "crazy" to know Musselman already holds the belief that he will make a play with the game on the line.

"For somebody to trust a lot in you like that, you don't want to let them down," Jones said. "I tried my hardest to make the shot and I made it and it was good to see Coach Musselman and the coaching staff happy because we wanted to win, and we owed (Georgia Tech) from last year.

"It was good to go to Georgia Tech and get a W."

Although he has only coached Jones for six games, Musselman understands that Jones likes having the ball in his hands in pressurized, late-game scenarios. His crunch-time numbers at Arkansas back that up.

In his short career, Jones is shooting 46.7 percent (29/62) from the floor and 41.1 percent (14/34) beyond the 3-point line in the final five minutes of regulation and overtime. He is also 45 of 54 (83.3 percent) at the free throw line.

Jones said that knowing his teammates have great confidence in his playmaking ability down the stretch makes it easier for him to knock down critical shots. Arkansas student assistant coach Khalil Garland began jumping up and down in front of the team's bench as Jones' 3-pointer was in the air.

Garland tweeted late Monday night that he knew it was good when it left Jones' hand.

"It feels amazing to know that they can count on me to knock that shot down when we need it," Jones said. "I know they have a lot of confidence and they know every time my shot goes up in the last couple of seconds they already know it's going in."

Monday was the second consecutive solid performance from Jones since Musselman sat him for the final 13-plus minutes of Arkansas' win over Texas Southern on Nov. 19. He is averaging 19 points, 6.5 rebounds and has shot 9 of 14 inside the arc in the two games since the benching.

Musselman appears to be pleased with Jones' response since the six-point, four-turnover night. Jones said he came out lackadaisical in that game and was glad Musselman challenged him to be more of a leader.

"I think when you coach players, like, your relationship matters, and Mason and I communicate all the time - all the time - whether it's by text or a phone call," Musselman said. "To me, he is all bought in and I think you can coach a guy harder or be more real with him the realer your relationship is. He knows I want him to be successful.

"They all know it, but some guys you just have a stronger bond and stronger relationship with, and he and I have a really strong relationship and therefore I think I can kind of coach him to try to squeeze every ounce of his God-given ability."

Unsurprisingly, Jones' phone lit up with messages and tweets about his game-winning shot Monday, but he said he didn't pay much attention to it. That's not to say he hasn't seen a replay of the final sequence.

"It's crazy to rewatch the moment," he said. "It's crazy, but it's fun that I was able to cherish it with my teammates and we were able to get a W."

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