Hump day went from being memorable to unforgettable for Justin Jones.
The Canisius senior turned his verbal commitment to play college football at Robert Morris into an official one by signing his letter of intent. That figured to be the highlight of his day, considering he suffered a severe ankle sprain in a loss Saturday that made him doubtful for Wednesday night’s heavyweight boys basketball contest between his top-ranked Crusaders and News No. 2 Large School Park.
Doubtful, but not completely out as Jones decided to give it the old college try during warmups and went from being a potential spectator to key contributor.
Jones recorded 10 points, four assists and played his usual in your-face-defense in a contest in which points were hard to come by as defending Federation state champion Canisius once again got the better of fellow defending state Federation champion Park, 45-37, in a Monsignor Martin clash played before a sellout crowd of more than 1,300 at Canisius High School.
Jones scored four of his team’s first eight points during the opening 3 minutes, five seconds as the Crusaders bolted to the early lead. His best plays came off assists in the paint on second-half baskets by Madut Ayiy and Stafford Trueheart. Trueheart scored 10 of his team-high 15 points in the second half as the Pioneers did a much better job defending Canisius’ leading scorer, who went off for 28 points on Jan. 23 when the Crusaders won the first meeting of the season between the teams at Park, 56-53.
But Canisius isn’t just a one-man show. It wins by receiving contributions from everyone and Jones’ were definitely needed in this one.
“I know it wasn’t going to be easy but it’s not about me,” Jones said. “It’s about the team. We have to play hard and I have to play hard and give all I could to help the team get the win.”
“He really couldn’t do much yesterday,” coach Kyle Husband said of Jones’ Tuesday practice. “He’s such a great athlete. He makes so many tough and smart plays, to have him out there is a huge bonus for us. … Great basketball player and one of our leaders.”
Jordan Nwora scored 16 points to lead Park.
Unlike the earlier meeting between the teams when Park had a double-digit lead in the second quarter, Canisius never trailed in this one. It led 19-14 at halftime.
Canisius led by 11 on two occasions in the fourth, but Park, which missed far too many makeable layups and close-in baskets, pulled within six twice – the last on a Kyle Harris layup with under two minutes left.
That was the final time the Pioneers got that close, though, as Jones drove the lane and dished underneath to Trueheart for the easy layup with 1:23 left. Trueheart made the free throw to complete the three-point play. Jones added a layup of his own in the final seconds as the Crusaders (16-2, 8-0) now own a two-game lead and the tiebreaker over Park (14-2, 6-2) in the standings with five regular-season games left.
While Canisius bounced back from Saturday’s loss – a game in which it yielded an uncharacteristic 71 points – with a win over Cardinal O’Hara on Monday, holding a very good Park team to under 40 points definitely left Husband in a happy mood.
“I thought it was a pretty” game, Husband said. “I think when we have focus and energy at that end we’re really tough. I don’t know if we have guns night in and night out to win a game in the 70s but I do know we have the guns to hold people in the 30s, 40s and 50s and I thought we had a lot of focus on that.”
“We played good defense, they played really good defense and they won,” Park coach Mike Battaglia said. “Hopefully we’ll have one more shot against them in the playoffs.”