USF's Dominique Jones: King of the court
TAMPA - Once the interviews were finished and the arena empty, University of South Florida guard Dominique Jones sprawled out on the court and made a phone call. Jones wanted to talk to someone special about what had just transpired. He dialed up his father, Norman, who was back in Lake Wales where Jones grew up. It was creeping up on midnight Saturday, but Jones knew his dad would still be wide awake. There was no way Norman Jones could sleep after watching his son score a career-high 46 points in USF's 109-105 win at Providence. Jones not only broke Charlie Bradley's school record for points in a game - Bradley's 42 against Florida State in 1982 had stood longer than Jones has been alive - but also he scored more points than any player in Big East Conference history other than Providence's Eric Murdock."I knew (my dad) was at home very proud of us and of me for winning the game," Jones said. So was Bradley, who is still USF's all-time leading scorer. Bradley lives in Tampa and works for the city's parks and recreation department. He often attends home games, but like Norman Jones, Bradley was at home watching the game on TV Saturday night. Bradley had to leave at halftime to pick up his daughter from a dance competition, but he heard Jones break his record on the radio. Jones' free throw with 31 seconds left put USF up 106-103 and officially dropped Bradley a spot in the record book. "It's great to have him break it," Bradley said. "He's very deserving of the record. Records are made to be broken. It is a record that's been great to have, but it's even more impressive on how he went about breaking the record." In the 31-year history of the Big East, only two players have scored 45 points in a game - Murdock scored 45 at Arizona a month before his Big East-record 48 against Pittsburgh in 1991 - and a player has scored 40 or more points in a conference game just 21 times during that span, including a 41-point performance by Seton Hall's Jeremy Hazell against West Virginia this season. Jones just didn't score points Saturday, but he added eight assists and matched his career high with 10 rebounds. He hit 15 of 23 shots and 14 of 18 free throws. "I think that's the best (game) that I've played," said Jones, a 21-year-old junior. "I knew one thing, that I just had to keep scoring, keep providing for my team, because there was still a chance that we could come back and win." Jones will be back on the court Thursday night when the Bulls play host to Seton Hall at the Sun Dome. Tipoff is at 7 p.m. Overlooked by most top programs coming out of Lake Wales, Jones landed at USF and has developed into one of the best players in the program's history. He moved into sixth place on the school's all-time scoring list, and overtaking Bradley's school record for career points should be within reach if he remains healthy next season. "I feel like I was underrated, even now," he said. "I just know people respect people who win. If we make it to the postseason, and we win, I'll get all the respect I'm looking for." Jones doesn't have to worry about his coach overlooking him. Stan Heath told Jones after Saturday's game that his performance was the best of any player he has coached. "I've coached some great ones, some guys who are playing in the NBA," Heath said. "I've never had a player that performed as well as he did in a game. What was so impressive was the fact he did it in such a way that led our team to victory. "He's such a special player. Every game that we go into, he is a marked man. We say the floor gets tilted every time he has the ball, because all five of their players are going to be on one side of the court." Perhaps Jones' most impressive play at Providence came at the end of regulation when he deflected an inbound pass, forcing a turnover that led to freshman Toarlyn Fitzpatrick's 3-pointer with 0.3 seconds left to force overtime. Afterward in the locker room, Fitzpatrick knew Jones had a great game, but he couldn't take his eyes off Jones' stat line in the box score. "It hit me after the game when I looked at the stats and saw he had 46 points," Fitzpatrick said. "It just goes to show that hard work pays off. He stays in the gym. It's really showing out there on the court." At 6-foot-4, Jones is more of a shooting guard than a point guard, but he's asked to handle the ball often in his role as floor leader. He has taken on added scoring responsibilities since forward Gus Gilchrist, the team's leading scorer (18.8 points) the first month of the season, went down with an ankle injury Dec. 7. In the last six games, Jones is averaging 28.5 points to boost his average to 21, third in the Big East. He has also taken on the role of verbal leader, publicly challenging teammates to spend more time in the gym after a disappointing home loss to West Virginia earlier this month. "I didn't mind what he said," Heath said. "More than anything, he just challenged the team to put in more work outside of practice. He does it, and it pays off for him. He just wanted guys to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. "He's the leader." That's exactly the way Jones wants it. "I hold myself to a (high) standard," Jones said. "I was kind of mad I missed the four free throws and that I couldn't be the No. 1 leading scorer in the Big East."
Reporter Scott Carter can be reached at (813) 731-8135.
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