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Sun are going to need a lot more from Jones down the stretch

Mohegan – A great many folks — 8,249 to be exact — left Mohegan Sun Arena happy Wednesday afternoon. Many of them were kids on Camp Day, able to scream uncontrollably for two hours without reprimand. Others left happy because the Sun won their fourth straight. Perhaps others rejoiced because there would be no more screaming for the rest of the day.

But the nominal first half of the season ended in Neon Uncasville with the Sun figuring out the vagaries of a tractor pull to beat New York, a group that appears content to measure its progress in first downs as much as baskets. Connecticut goes to break a healthy 13-6 with all its hopes and dreams percolating.

Sun coach Curt Miller said after the game that New York’s recipe will be duplicated in the second half: get physical with the daughters of Sun and see whether Connecticut’s precision begins to cough and wheeze. The Sun figured out a way Wednesday. But they won’t during the dog days of August with Jonquel Jones, their gifted center, taking three shots in the paint all day.

Miller has alluded to Jones being a “6-6 three-point shooter” in the past. That’s mostly what became of her Wednesday as a battalion of New York post players treated her like a punching bag.

Put it this way: backup center Kristine Anigwe played roughly 20 fewer minutes and had more offensive rebounds and free throw attempts than Jones. Good for Anigwe. Not so much for Jones, who will be starting in Saturday’s All-Star game.

Jones, in fairness, finished with 12 points and 10 rebounds. She illustrated her diverse repertoire with a big three-pointer out of a timeout and a layup off a pick-and-roll in the final 3:15. A late-game pick-and-roll sequence between Jones and Courtney Williams is virtually impossible to guard.

But in this game, Jones was mostly a ghost in the post.

“After we got the opening tip and got her a catch on the block, it was not easy getting her low post touches,” Miller said.

Her first “touch” in the low post turned into a successful fall-away jumper. It went in. Tough shot. Still: a fall-away.

“We’re playing through her down there and we’re going to need her down there,” Miller said. “Her challenge is going to be not only to score outside but inside. And we know we’re going to go as she goes. She’s got to be better and she knows that. With that said, how many people have double-doubles and you just desire more? She’s going to shoulder some (responsibility) and she knows that. But she’s mature enough to take that challenge on. The first play we got her a basket on the block and then it was a long time in between.”

Specifically: with 4:44 left in the third quarter.

It is not fair, of course, to lay this all on Jones. Except she’s the best player here. An MVP candidate. The ability to score from anywhere. Dunks, fall-aways and threes. Nothing she can’t do. New York’s game plan, hardly otherworldly, will nonetheless be duplicated. Beat up Jonquel and see if you can turn her into a jump shooter. Beats the alternative.

“That’s the kind of game we’re going to see the second half,” Miller said. “That’s the game plan people like to throw at us. Physicality, get up in us, try to bother us. We found a way today to grind to get a W, but we’re going to see that approach a great deal in the second half.”

Miller said before the game that he’s found some success being the “bad guy” with his players. He said it’s resulted in more unity, specifically between starters and bench players. Miller said he has no issues with being the bad guy as long as his players keep winning.

Maybe it’s time he focused the bad guy stuff on Jones, his best player. If she’s soft, the Sun won’t hang around the playoffs long. They got away with it Wednesday because Anigwe embraced the contact and Jasmine Thomas (18 points) was splendid.

Not a recipe that will continue to produce.

So happy All-Star game to Jonquel Jones, a deserving starter.

But she better start punching back soon.

This is the opinion if Day sports columnist Mike DiMauro 


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