Iona’s ‘Momo’ Jones Not Backing Down from Bulletin Board Comments
By Brandon Castel
DAYTON — Lamont Jones’ team needed just one more basket to close out a three-point shooting contest on the court at University of Dayton Arena on Thursday.
It’s the same court where 15-seed Iona will face 2-seed Ohio State on Friday night, and if practice was any indication, the Buckeyes had better know wear No. 2 is at every time the Gaels bring the ball up the court.
With his group sitting on 19 threes, and the other group closing in fast, Jones was the guy who had to have the ball in his hands.
“Momo’s got this,” his teammates yelled as the 6-0 guard out of New York pulled up for a 30-foot three. When it rattled in, Jones held a fist in the air and looked around for anyone who might question his greatness.
“It’s all about coming in with confidence,” he said outside the Iona locker room.
“It’s March. Anybody can beat anybody at any given time. You see upsets all the time. You see people come out and make their careers and it’s all done with confidence.”
If it’s all about confidence, Jones might take Iona all the way. The former Arizona scoring guard has already helped coach Tim Clues reach the school’s first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006.
He also helped the Gaels to a 20-13 record this year, including a regular season conference title and even some votes in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll. But Jones’ confidence, which starts with his natural ability to score the basketball from just about anywhere on the court, captured some national headlines heading into Iona’s opening game of this year’s tournament.
“I feel like we’re supposed to win, and if we win, it’s not going to be like, ‘Oh, we beat Ohio State.’ It’s, ‘OK, on to the next round and let’s get this,’ ” Jones said in an interview with the New York Post.
He claims his comments were taken out of context, and Jones even confronted the author of the article, Zach Braziller, when he spotted him outside the Iona locker room Thursday. That doesn’t mean the team’s brash senior is backing down from anything he or teammate Sean Armand had to say earlier this week.
“I’m not going to down play the comments. I feel like we can win the game. If they’re mad about that, so be it. I feel we can win the game,” he said.
“If we come out and win the game, it’s not going to be a shocker. When we come back to this locker room, it’s not going to be screaming and jumping, it’s going to be let's move on to the next game. Point blank. End of story.”
Only that’s not the end of the story. Not since those comments made their way to the Ohio State locker room.
Poking the Buckeyes
LaQuinton Ross was ready with the quotes when teammate Sam Thompson came over for a little talk on Thursday. Ross, a sophomore out of Mississippi, was sitting back in front of his locker with his legs spread across the floor as Thompson leaned over him.
“I’ve got it right here in my pocket,” he said, pulling out his Samsung phone as he began to read some of the comments from Armand and Lamont “Momo” Jones aloud in the Ohio State locker room.
The other players didn’t even bother to gather around. They had already heard what the Iona players had to say by the time they left Columbus.
“We definitely listen,” Thompson said with a smile as he sat in front of his locker room at UD Arena.
“We know what they’re saying. We’re not going to respond to any of that, but we know what they’re saying.”
After back-to-back trips to the Sweet Sixteen, and a Final Four berth a year ago, the Buckeyes know what to expect. They have been here before, favored to dismantle a heavy underdog during the anything-goes madness of March.
There and Back Again
But Momo Jones has been here too. The senior out of Harlem transferred to Iona last season after playing 26 minutes a game for Arizona basketball coach Sean Miller as a sophomore during the 2010-11 season.
Jones averaged nearly 10 points and 2.5 assists per game that season for a team that blasted No. 1-seed Duke, 93-77, to advance to the Elite Eight. Jones scored 16 in that win over Duke and eight points in Arizona’s 65-63 loss to UConn.
“Coming from where we come from, I've been here (in the tournament) three years in a row,” he said.
“I know what it takes. It’s not anything new to me. It’s not like going out there and it’s a shell shock. I’ve been to the elite eight and I’ve won everywhere that I’ve gone.”
This season, Jones is the No. 3 scorer in all of Division I college basketball, at 23 points per game. He’s taken 547 shots in 33 games, which averages out to over 16.5 attempts per game. He expects to shoot early and often against the Buckeyes on Friday night, regardless of whether he’s being defended by Aaron Craft or Shannon Scott.
“For me, I’m confident. I’m very confident,” he emphasized.
“I think we can win the game and if we win the game it’s not going to be a shocker. It’s not going to be something in our eyes that’s like, ‘Oh my God it’s an upset.’ In our eyes, we’re supposed to win the game just as in their eyes they’re supposed to win the game. As basketball players, you have to feel like that.”
Ohio State junior Lenzelle Smith would agree with Jones, to a certain extent.
“I don’t take it personally. I think it’s playful, kind of. I really think it’s a joke,” he said Thursday.
“I applaud their confidence. They feel like they have a shot just like we feel we have a shot. They put their shoes on like we do, it comes down to who can execute and be the better team. It will come down to who shows up to play.”
The Gaels are averaging over 80 points a night this season, with Jones and Armand leading the way. They play an up and down style with constant pressure in the backcourt. It caught BYU by surprise in last year’s play-in game against Iona. The Cougars were down 15 at the half before rallying for 78-72 victory at UD Arena.
“A lot of people don’t play as fast as we can play. A lot of people don’t know how to play that way,” Jones said.
“They say they want to play that way, but when you’re in a system for four years and you don’t play that way, it catches you off guard.”
It might have caught Ohio State sleeping on Friday night. It still could.
There have only been five 15 seeds to upset No. 2 seeds in NCAA tournament history. One of them was last year, when Norfolk State beat Missouri 86-84. Before that, it had not happened since 2001 (Hampton over Iowa State), but the Buckeyes will have a little extra motivation to take it to the Gaels in this one.
“If we weren’t ready to play, they just made us ready to play,” Smith added.
“They gave us all the ammunition to come out and be that type of team that people want to see. There shouldn’t be any setbacks.
“We’re kind of rolling right now, and I hope guys aren’t feeling good (about what was said). They should definitely feel mad, or be pissed off.”
Even if they are, they shouldn’t be expecting a pregame apology.
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