Billy Gillispie nearly had tears in his eyes late Tuesday night. Just thinking about his big sophomore was enough to choke him up.
Joseph Jones has that effect on people.
And Tuesday might have been the big fella's best performance. The 6-foot-9 center from Normangee played 39 minutes on a bum knee and a sick stomach. The only minute he didn't play? That turned into a quick sprint to the locker room so he could throw up.
Irony: A&M's best pressure player has a pressure-cooker of a stomach. He often has these episodes before games, and typically the outsider looking in might think, "Hey, the kid can't take it!"
But Jones can take it and is taking it to a new level.
In A&M's 72-70 victory over North Texas on Tuesday, Jones scored a career high 35 points, tied a career high with 13 rebounds and even contested the Mean Green's last-second shot on the perimeter that, had it gone in, would've beaten the Aggies.
He did it all, and we could rehash it all, over and over, game after game. That's how good Jones is - he's the story every game, and, if we don't watch ourselves, we might start taking him for granted.
There's just one thing about Jones, though, and maybe you've seen it brewing at Reed Arena yourself over the last couple weeks.
The Jones Problem: If he doesn't get enough help from his teammates, the story won't include an A&M postseason.
Be careful how you read into this one. Nobody's suggesting Acie Law, Dominique Kirk, Josh Carter, Marlon Pompey and the rest of A&M's roster is made up of caddies, sad sacks and nobodies - plus Jones. In fact, if you listen to the buzz around Aggie basketball, fans are in love with Law and Carter, especially, and intrigued by the possibilities and potential for the rest.
Law is scoring 15.4 points a game and, by even his coaches' admission, should be scoring more. Kirk is picking up where he left off last season as A&M's best handy-man. Pompey has shown flashes of vast improvement in the paint, and Carter is the best outside shooting true freshman A&M has had in years. Throw in senior Chris Walker, junior college transfers Eddie Smith and Antanas Kavaliauskas and tight end-turned-hoopster Martellus Bennett, and you've got a roster good enough that well we could sit around for hours debating over whether A&M has a deeper, more-talented group this year than it had last year before swingman Antoine Wright left for the NBA.
But over the last two games, both close calls, A&M ran into trouble.
Law stopped forcing the issue on offense. Zone defenses lulled him to sleep, and after averaging 19.3 points per game over the first three, he scored just 10 points in each of the close victories over Penn State and North Texas.
Carter also struggled in the two close games, hitting just 6 of 22 field goals and 5 of 18 3-point attempts. Before that he was shooting 40 percent from 3-point range.
Other Aggies struggled, and it showed. Penn State outrebounded A&M, 40-36. Against North Texas, A&M had more turnovers (22) than assists (15) for the first time this season.
Even Jones had his troubles in the 60-55 victory over Penn State. He led A&M with 15 points and seven rebounds, but after the game he seemed upset with his performance.
The Aggies need not be ashamed for being 5-0 - or for having to fight in their last two outings. Penn State is ever so slowly crawling towards respectability while North Texas had enough height, strength and stamina to support a couple of hot perimeter shooters in Kendrick Davis and Calvin Watson.
But for A&M to return to the NIT or reach the promised land of the NCAA tournament, Law is going to have to bring his A game every game. Kirk will have to chip in a few more somethings (points, rebounds, assists, whatever) a night. Carter, though just a freshman, will have to continue maturing, and Pompey will have to continue improving.
And the rest of the Aggies will, too.
There's plenty of potential in this group. Anybody can see it. Potential, however, won't help Jones carry A&M past the Big 12 tournament. No matter how strong the big man is, he needs the little men to be big with him.
• Robert Premeaux Jr. is a sports writer for The Bryan-College Station Eagle. His e-mail address is robert.premeaux@ theeagle.com.
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