FAYETTEVILLE - C.J. Jones got in Arkansas’ recruiting game because of his offense.
The reserve sophomore guard now stays in Razorbacks games because of his defense.
Mired behind 2016-2017 senior 3-point marksman Dusty Hannahs and then junior now senior guards Jaylen Barford, Daryl Macon and Anton Beard, Birmingham, Ala. native shooting guard Jones only averaged six minutes in the 21 games he played for last season’s 26-10 Razorbacks.
Even with Barford, Macon and Beard respectively averaging 19.6, 14.6 and 11.9 points and 30.1, 28.9 and 30.1 minutes starting all eight games for these 6-2 Razorbacks, Jones averages 19.8 minutes off the bench including 26, 21, 20 and 23 minutes for the last four.
It could be said he shot his way into prominence. Jones hit 20 of 37 field goals these last four games, including 13 of 27 3-pointers plus on the foul line 9 for 9 while scoring 12, 19, 11 and 19 points.
But that wouldn’t tell the whole story, especially the part that Coach Mike Anderson recently relishes most.
“I think defensively he's doing some good things,” Anderson said Monday before Jones’ off the bench surge helped turn an early 13-2 deficit into Tuesday night’s 92-66 rout over the Colorado State Rams. “He rebounds now. I think C.J. is really getting more comfortable out on the floor. I think defensively he's doing some good things. He rebounds now. He's not getting as lost as he was last year and that's just experience. He's coming off screens. He's playing the game the right way. So his minutes will continue to go up.”
Jones’ 5 for 5 from the field for 11 first-half points most resurrecting the Hogs along with freshman reserves Daniel Gafford of El Dorado and Darious Hall of Little Rock Mills after five senior starters started in a slump certainly seemed to ignite an offensive charge that included zero Arkansas turnovers the entire first half.
“We actually didn't find that out until after the game,” Jones said of the Hogs handling the ball perfectly for a half. “I didn't even notice. We moved the ball pretty well and shared it.”
Anderson mentioned that of course, but it was the off the bench defense of the aforementioned three plus sophomore forward Adrio Bailey and senior forward Arlando Cook that Anderson discussed most.
“C.J. comes out and he was lighting it up,” Anderson said. “But I thought it was all triggered by our defense.”
Defensive energy triggers offense, Anderson preaches, especially to his bench brought in to stir things up.
“Coach A loves it when his bench comes off with energy,” Jones said. “So we knew that's what we had to bring. We brought that spark. Coach was just telling us ‘Get a couple stops!’ Well, multiple stops actually, and we did that.”
Of course Jones’ shooting eye first caught Anderson’s eyes and it has caught his teammates’ eyes, too, Anderson said.
On his current roll, they’ll give him a mulligan after a miss.
“We were sharing the basketball and trusting,” Anderson said of the Razorbacks’ performance against Colorado State. “Like when C.J. got open and missed a shot they got it right back to him. He has no conscience and knocked it down. That’s a good thing.”
Jones’ 13 of 25 3-pointers these past four games seem all the more remarkable because while most 3-point shooters situate to shoot as close to the 3-point as they can get, Jones seems wandering to another area code.
“I like to shoot really four feet behind the three-point line, because it's easier for me, actually,” Jones said. “If I'm close to the line, I feel like I'll miss it. But if I'm back far enough, I feel like I'm going to make it more than when I'm close.”
Backwards logic it seems but the Hogs will take it.
Just like they’ll take it, since his injury proved temporary, that Macon’s exit during four games ago during the loss to North Carolina inserted Jones to prominence rolling into the Razorbacks hosting the Minnesota Golden Gophers of the Big Ten Saturday night at Walton Arena.
“When Daryl had to come out with the injury against North Carolina, my confidence just boosted from there,” Jones said. “I’ve been carrying it on from there these last few games. I’m very comfortable. Very confident.”