That it is a crucial game in a season that seems to have nothing but, today’s 9 p.m. visit to the Coliseum by a streaking Notre Dame team comes with a historical footnote in the history of West Virginia University basketball.
Kevin Jones enters the game having scored 20 or more points in nine consecutive games. If he can stretch that streak one more game, he will enter into an area that has been reserved for only the greatest of the greats at WVU.
Only Jerry West and Hot Rod Hundley have scored 20 points or more in 10 consecutive games ... and WVU basketball started in the 1903-04 season, which is 108 years ago.
“That’s great company to be in. Just to be mentioned in the same breath with those guys is a great honor for me,” he said.
What he’s accomplished this year has been amazing, for while he had been a solid player throughout his career, he had given no indication that he was about to become the best player in the Big East. In fact, when he put his name into the NBA draft last year, he learned that he had a lot to work on ... and he took it seriously.
Until this year scoring 20 points in a game was little more than a rumor to Jones. He never reached 20 points in his first season as a Mountaineer and, in fact, reached double figures only eight times.
Early in his sophomore season he scored 20 points against Coppin State and liked it so much he repeated against Cleveland State, but those would be his only two 20-point games of the year.
“Obviously, his sophomore year we wanted him to shoot it, but he wasn’t the focal point; Da’Sean (Butler) was,” Coach Bob Huggins said. “A year ago everyone said. ‘You have to pick up the slack,’ and he pressed.”
It was the worst thing he could do.
As a junior, much was expected of Jones. Butler was gone, and this was going to be his team, a role he was not yet ready to assume.
“You press; you don’t make shots,” Huggins said. “He’s not Da’Sean. He’s not Joe Alexander. Da’ couldn’t do what Joe did. Joe couldn’t do what Da’ did. Neither one of them can do what KJ is doing.”
It comes down to one thing, according to Huggins, and that is knowing yourself and accepting yourself.
“The guys who are successful in this game are the guys who understand who they are. They play to their strengths, and they don’t do things they are not capable of doing,” he said.
Overwhelmed by the pressure as a junior, Jones reached 20 points only twice, scoring 22 against VMI and 25 against Louisville, his only 20-point effort against a Big East team in his first three collegiate seasons.
This year has been a different story, opening with 20 against Oral Roberts, scoring 29 in the Alcorn State game, then jumping up big time with his first 30-point effort at Kansas State.
The streak started with 22 points against Georgetown, and no one has been able to put an end to it since.
In the nine games Jones has hit 78 of 150 field goals, which is 52 percent from the field, while hitting 13 of 36 3s, 36.1 percent. Until the streak he had managed just 13 3s in 57 attempts, which was 22.8 percent.
What caused the metamorphosis?
Huggins can put it in perspective.
“He’s taken 377 shots on the year and 105 of them are offensive rebounds,” Huggins said. “That means he’s 275 shots out of the offense and 105 shots on offensive rebounds. If you rebound the ball that consistently on offense you are going to score, especially when you finish around the rim the way he does.”
He turns offensive rebounds into points.
It did not come naturally.
“I guess it’s just a testament to the work I put in during my career,” Jones said. “I knew it was going to be my time this year to step up. I didn’t know I was going to play this hard during the season, but I worked real hard during the off-season for this.”
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.