By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE —The most experienced of the healthy point guards on the University of Virginia men’s basketball team has appeared in six college games, with four starts, and played a total of 151 minutes.
Teven Jones doesn’t have much on his UVa résumé. Still, the 6-0 freshman from Kannapolis, N.C., has, in his short college career, won over his teammates and coaches with his steady play at the point. And so Jontel Evans’ latest setback has not shaken the Cavaliers’ confidence.
Evans said Friday at John Paul Jones Arena that he planned to tell Jones, “You’ve been in this situation before. It’s nothing new. This is what you worked hard for this summer and this fall, and now the opportunity’s here again, and you just have to take advantage of it.”
A senior from Hampton who has started 71 games during his UVa career, Evans reinjured his right foot Wednesday night against Tennessee at JPJ and is out indefinitely. Evans had surgery Oct. 2 to repair a stress fracture on that foot and missed five of UVa’s first six games.
“I’m good,” Evans said Friday. “It’s just a little tweak. I should be back soon. Doctors just want me to rest it so it can be strong” for ACC play, which for UVa starts with a Jan. 6 game against North Carolina at JPJ.
“We’re just going to keep re-evaluating Bub, give him the rest and make sure everything’s recovering,” Virginia coach Tony Bennett said Friday.
In their last game before final exams begin, the Wahoos (7-2) host Mississippi Valley State (0-4) at 4 p.m. Saturday at JPJ. This will be the fourth game Jones has played when Evans wasn’t available. (A one-game suspension and a shoulder injury kept Jones out of UVa’s first three games.)
“I know I gotta bring the same energy,” Jones said Friday, “and just do what I’ve been doing. We’ve been winning, so hopefully I can just keep that up.”
Evans, a member of the ACC’s all-defensive team last season, made his 2012-13 debut Nov. 13 against Delaware but, because of soreness in his foot, played only three minutes. He sat out the next three games before returning Nov. 28 to play 16 minutes against Wisconsin. He logged 23 minutes three days later versus Green Bay and then, against Tennessee, made his first start of the season. But Evans limped off the court with 13:41 left, and Jones went the rest of the way at the point.
After the game, which UVa won 46-38, Jones sought out Evans in the training room.
“I walked up to him and I was like, `I just want you to get healthy,’ ” Jones recalled Friday. “And once we’re 100-percent healthy, we’re going to be a tough team to deal with.”
With Evans sidelined, Jones’ backup will be 6-3 freshman Taylor Barnette, who’s more comfortable at shooting guard, or 5-11 senior Doug Browman, a walk-on who played a season-high 11 minutes in the Nov. 9 opener against George Mason.
Junior Joe Harris, UVa’s leading scorer, played some point when Jones and Evans were out in the early season, but Bennett would prefer to keep the 6-6 junior on the wing.
“But again, it’s why you’re always ready, because you don’t know when your number’s going to get called,” Bennett said. “For these other guys who haven’t played as much the last few games, or a guy like Teven, it’s about being as ready and battle-tested as you can, knowing we’re going to have some more opportunities for them.”
Jones, who enrolled at UVa in January but didn’t play last season, is averaging 4.5 points and 25.2 minutes per game, and he’s 12 for 13 from the line. He has more assists (15) than turnovers (12) and has come up with six steals. Against Tennessee, Jones hit both ends of a one-and-one in the final minute to help seal Virginia’s victory.
“I’m proud of him,” Bennett said. “He’s done a really nice job up to his point. He still has a lot of ball in front of him, obviously. But to miss those games and kind of step in, he’s really given us a lift. He should be thankful for the opportunity he’s had and keep striving to improve his game and look for more, and hopefully we’ll get Bub back fairly soon, and we can have that two-point guard attack, which has been good to us.”
Jones said: “This experience I’m getting now is definitely going to help us down the road, and especially getting into conference play.”
In his short college career, Jones said, he’s learned how important it is to “stay calm, stay poised. Especially when we were at Wisconsin, and we were up almost the whole game, and then they hit two big 3s and they were up 36-31. As a redshirt freshman, I’d never been in that situation, and I had to make sure I didn’t panic. It worked out for the best and we came out with a win.”
Jones scored a season-high 13 points in UVa’s Nov. 20 win over North Texas at JPJ. That’s the only time, though, that he’s scored more than six points as a Cavalier. He’s shooting 33.3 percent from the floor (7 for 21) and 20 percent from 3-point range (1 for 5), in part, perhaps, because he’s been focused on setting up his teammates.
As a senior at A.L. Brown High School, Jones averaged 22 points.
“I can definitely do a little bit more as a scorer and a shot-maker,” Jones said. “I know that, but Coach wants me to just get the offense going, get Joe baskets, get Akil [Mitchell] baskets, and that’s what I’m doing right now. If he calls on me to score more, I’ll definitely do that.”
In practice, Bennett said, Jones is “getting a little more comfortable knowing where to probe, where to take rhythm shots. It’s always about playing within yourself, but within that finding where you can be productive offensively.
“He hit a big floater against Wisconsin at an opportune time. Against North Texas, he scored six or eight early. So he has those things. He’s different than Jontel in some ways, and he’s got to stay true to those strengths of his. It’s always important for us for him to set our defense, be rock-solid at that end and then still maintain that soundness offensively, but look for opportunities where he can again get some shots, get some penetration and play from that.”
With Evans out, Jones knows he must shoulder significant responsibility on a team loaded with freshmen and sophomores. That doesn’t faze him.
“I don’t get nervous,” Jones said. “I say prayers before games, and that’s actually how I calm down, just saying my prayers and knowing that God’s out there on the court with me. I just talk to him and I’m like, `I’ve been doing this since I was little. It’s just another basketball game.’ ”