JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — As the only senior playing for the East Tennessee State basketball team, Jarvis Jones figures he needs to do everything he can to help his team down the homestretch.
The Bucs’ rollercoaster season has left many unanswered questions, but one thing is certain about this team: Jones will be on the court more than anybody else.
Since he became eligible at the beginning of the second semester, the 6-foot-2 guard from Memphis has played more minutes (37.3 per game) than anybody in the Atlantic Sun Conference. He’s certainly making up for lost time after sitting out the first semester as an academic casualty.
“I feel responsible,” Jones said. “It’s just a part of being a leader for the team, that’s all. But once the game starts, it’s all about the team.”
Jones has been the most active player on the team, scoring the most points (16.7 per game) and taking the most shots (15 per game).
“When you look at the makeup of our team, he’s just got to be on the court,” coach Murry Bartow said. “He’s got to play a lot of minutes for us.”
Jones and the Bucs begin their last road trip of the regular season tonight when they take on North Florida. They also play at Jacksonville on Saturday.
Jones hasn’t been at full strength since injuring his left ankle in the Bucs’ win over Kennesaw State last week. He played against Mercer on Saturday, but Bartow pointed out “he wasn’t himself.”
“It’s still bothering him,” Bartow said. “He’s not 100 percent. We have him in a boot as much as we can, but he’s been practicing, so he should be able to play.”
Jones says he’ll be on the court tonight.
“It’s doing better,” he said. “I got to keep playing. It’s nothing that’s gonna stop me from playing. It’s my last year.”
Jones has led the Bucs in scoring in six of their last seven games, has been in double figures in 21of the 22 games in which he’s played and is averaging 20.8 points over his last eight games.
“He’s had a good year,” Bartow said. “I wish his percentages were higher. That’s what I’m always on him about. We need him to shoot. We need him to score. He’s got to shoot a lot. We want him to do it as efficiently as possible.”
Redshirt freshman Lester Wilson, who led the Bucs in scoring for much of the season, has been coming off the bench as Bartow has tried to improve the team’s defense. Wilson’s average, which hovered just below 16 for much of the season, is down to 13.7 as his playing time has diminished.
Rashawn Rembert’s role has increased as the season has progressed. The sophomore guard is second in the conference in 3-point shooting at 41 percent.
The Bucs beat North Florida 89-75 last month, using a spirited second-half comeback after falling behind by 17 points. Hunter Harris led ETSU that day with 25 points. Jones had 19.
“We got the ball out and ran more and that led to a lot of transition points,” Harris said. “I’m very confident I can do it again. I’m pretty sure they’ll have a little game plan for me next time, but I’m sure I can adjust to it.”
ETSU has not lost in the UNF Arena, although the last two games were decided by five points or less. The Bucs lead the overall series with North Florida 15-1. The Ospreys’ only win was a 59-55 decision in the 2011 A-Sun tournament.
If the Bucs are going to complete a season sweep of the Ospreys, they’ll have to deal with Parker Smith. The senior guard averages 16.7 points per game and leads the A-Sun in 3-point accuracy, making 44 percent from long range. Only two players in the country have made more than his 101 3-pointers this season.
Smith had 26 points against the Bucs in the earlier meeting, going 6 for 12 on 3-pointers
Travis Wallace, a 6-6, 230-pound junior, averages 14.3 points a game to give the Ospreys a solid one-two punch. Also for North Florida, Andy Diaz leads the league in field goal percentage (.610) and point guard Will Wilson leads the A-Sun in assists at 6.4 per game.
“I think when you look at them, you have to deal with Wallace inside,” Bartow said. “And obviously Parker Smith is a dangerous 3-point shooter. We can’t let Parker Smith just go crazy, and he’s capable of that.”
After this road trip, the Bucs return home for the regular-season finale, March 1 against USC-Upstate. The A-Sun tournament is scheduled to begin March 6 at Macon, Ga.
“There’s no quit in this team,” Bartow said. “They’ll keep battling and keep fighting.”