When Andrew Jones connected on a running layup with 2:47 left in the first half, it was worth more than the two points added to the scoreboard.
Jones, who missed most of the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons due to his battle with leukemia, played significant minutes for the first time since December of 2017. His 13 first-half minutes Tuesday night totaled more than the redshirt sophomore received in 2018-19, when he appeared in two early season games.
“Sometimes in life when you’re dealt a tough hand, it’s really all about how you respond,” Texas head coach Shaka Smart said. “For the past almost two years, that’s what Andrew (Jones) has had to do.”
Although Jones’ entry into the game was without announcement as he subbed in during a TV timeout, the sparsely populated Frank Erwin Center erupted for its largest applause as Jones scored his first points in the Longhorns’ 69-45 blowout win over Northern Colorado.
But a double-clutch layup wasn’t all Jones had in his pocket.
Jones exploded for a career-high 20 points on 8-13 shooting, including 4-5 from beyond the arc in 29 minutes. Smart even called Jones the best offensive player of the night, but wasn’t surprised after working with him for the past few months.
“I was actually really emotional the first time he went in the game,” Smart said. “To have gone through the journey he’s gone through with the approach that he’s had, I’m really excited about that.”
For the first time in 23 months, Andrew Jones looked like his old self.
Even as Matt Coleman brought the ball up in the second half, Texas’ band repeatedly chanted, “We love Andrew!”
The fans were determined to see more from Jones.
“(With) Andrew being out for so long, people kind of forgot about him,” sophomore guard Courtney Ramey said. “He’s going to wake them up, and he’s going to help our team out a lot.”
Jones caught fire for 12 points in the first eight minutes of the second half sending the crowd into a frenzy.
“I was just glad to be able to step out on that court (without) restrictions,” Jones said. “Right now, my job, my focus for this team is to be a spark no matter what.”
Ramey, whose second career double-double was overshadowed by Jones’ career performance in his first game back, thought it was particularly special to see such a performance after nearly two years away from the game.
“(His career performance) proves the type of player he is,” Ramey said. “I just want to see him keep growing.”
Jones, as promised by Smart, performed like a top six lineup player should and proved his ability moving forward through the rest of the season.
But having a top scorer back and readily available is worth more to Smart than just a moral boost; it gives Smart the option of playing four guards in his lineup, a style he is excited about.
“I’ve always liked playing (with four guards),” Smart said, noting Gerald Liddell’s positional flexibility once he returns from concussion protocol. “We haven’t really had the personnel for it (in the past).”
Regardless of what game-planning decisions Smart makes moving forward, make no mistake: Andrew Jones is back.