Now a team captain in his senior season, Momo Jones is on fast track to MAAC Player of Year honors as he leads Iona on road back to NCAA Tournament. (Photo courtesy of Adam Zagoria via ZagsBlog)
Iona College no longer has Mike Glover or Scott Machado, but what the Gaels do have, in addition to their greater overall talent, is an unquestioned team leader; one who has exceeded even his own expectations after appearing in each of the last two NCAA Tournaments, and one who is always looking for a way to improve despite already being viewed at a high level.
"I have to get my team going in multiple ways," Iona guard Lamont Jones; better known by his nickname of "Momo," said after his latest masterpiece, a 30-point tour de force in which 22 of his markers came in the second half of the Gaels' 78-70 victory over archrival Manhattan earlier this evening in New Rochelle. "I have to play with everything in the tank every night."
For Jones, the gifted point guard who can score just as well as he can facilitate, working with such a high motor comes naturally. The Harlem product, a one-time standout at Rice High School before completing his prep career at the same Oak Hill Academy that has produced NBA All-Stars the likes of Carmelo Anthony, was recruited by Sean Miller to Arizona because of that nonstop will to compete, spending his first two collegiate seasons in Tucson before returning closer to home to be near his ailing grandmother.
Last season, Jones thrived in his first experience with Iona coach Tim Cluess' uptempo offense, averaging just under sixteen points per game and shooting 35 percent from three-point range while playing off the ball alongside point guard Scott Machado, now of the Houston Rockets. With Machado having graduated this past May, and Sean Armand's breakout sophomore season having vaulted him into the starting lineup, Jones switched back to his natural point guard position with exceptional results. The senior's outburst tonight was the eleventh of the Gaels' fifteen contests this season in which Jones has scored 20 or more points, highlighted by his 40-point showing against Quinnipiac in November's Paradise Jam, an affair in which Iona took their future MAAC foe to the limit before narrowly falling in overtime.
"In the first half, I wanted to throw a party," said Manhattan coach Steve Masiello with regard to his team's defense against Jones in the opening stanza of tonight's game, where he was held to a mere eight points before matching that total within the first two minutes following the intermission on his way to 30. "In the second half, I wanted to go to a high bridge."
That is what Jones has done to seemingly everyone this season, making the jump from supporting cast member to full-fledged star and consistent focal point in every opponent's defensive schemes, sometimes leaving opposing coaches equal parts astounded and bewildered at just how much he can influence a game in so short a period of time. Going into the Gaels' matchup against Marist Thursday night, Momo is averaging a team-leading 22.7 points per game, a figure that has ranked in the top five in the nation for most of a season that is now halfway toward ending perhaps in MAAC Player of the Year, and maybe Haggerty Award honors as well for the player who, at times last season, was unable to show off every facet of his skill set, which was on display in the second half when he drew three consecutive charges against a physical Manhattan team that was looking to make it impossible for Jones to complete his trademark drive through the lane.
"I'm still trying to figure it out," Jones said when asked about the main difference between the Gaels team that Machado and Glover led to the NCAA Tournament last season and the group he is responsible with bringing back to the field of 68. "We have a really talented group of guys that are willing to learn."
If Momo Jones is still trying to figure out what sets the team he leads apart from the previous group whose success he was an integral part of, then chances are this year's Iona Gaels are a bunch that is more special than last season's miraculous run to the First Four in Dayton, and for a senior who is embracing the opportunity to shape the future while at the same time playing every game as though it were his last, such a blessing is well-deserved.