PHILADELPHIA – Michae Jones had practiced these types of moments time and again going back to her days as a child.
That opportunity to step up to the free-throw line and knock down clutch shots with the game on the line is something she had daydreamed about too many times to count growing up. She wasn’t sure she would have the chance to be in the spotlight like that in a real game so early in her University of Pennsylvania career but she took full advantage of her opportunity on Friday night.
Jones scored a game-high 19 points off the bench including going 9-for-10 from the free-throw line in overtime as the Quakers held on for a 75-70 victory over Harvard to secure a spot in the Ivy League Tournament. Penn advances to its third straight Ivy League Tournament, which they last one in 2017. Kendall Grasella (Germantown Academy) has been the Quakers’ starting point guard all season and the one facilitating the offense at crucial moments of the fourth quarter and overtime but it was Jones’ turn to lead the team.
While she only had eight points entering the extra period, Jones erupted for 11 over the final five minutes. She got the scoring started for Penn (19-5, 9-2 Ivy League) in overtime with a layup down the right side. She hit her first two free throws of overtime with 1:11 remaining to put the Quakers up, 66-58. Grasella’s only two points of the game came with two foul shots on the ensuing possession.
University of Pennsylvania's sophomore Michae Jones (PSD photo)
Jones has come into her own as of late with three double-digit scoring outings over her last five games including 15 points in an 80-72 overtime loss to the Crimson on February 16.
With Grasella dealing with foul trouble and senior Ashley Russell (11 points, three steals) suffering a lower body injury late in the game, it was Jones who filled the void and led the Quakers to victory.
"As a basketball player, you have to be ready for any position you play in,” Jones said. “I didn’t play much but when my time came I stepped up and that was big. We lost Ashley at the end so somebody had to step up and have that confidence and leadership so I just took the
The sophomore needed to step up as the Crimson’s Sydney Skinner erupted for 12 of her 17 points in overtime, going 2-2 from behind the arc and 6-6 from the charity stripe. Jones was able to maintain Penn’s lead over Harvard (14-10, 7-4) hitting seven of her final eight free throws to clinch the win. She finished 13-15 from the line and her 13 made free throws are the most by a Penn player in a single game since Jewel Clark hit 16 in November 2002.
While this was her first breakthrough moment as a member of the Quakers program, Jones is no stranger to big moments like this. She was a three-year captain at Edward Douglas White Catholic (La.), where she led the program to state playoff quarterfinal appearances and finished her career as the program’s all-time leading scorer (1,832 points).
Head coach Mike McLaughlin saw the confidence Jones was playing with, especially early in overtime and knew she wanted to be on the court in those closing moments.
“There’s nothing like when you’re in the gym, everyone is looking at you and the game is on the line when you’ve already done that in your mind over and over,” McLaughlin said. “She’s been in that moment in her own mind and now she’s succeeded. I’ve played and I’ve been there before. There’s nothing like that and she gets to feel that with everyone looking at her.”
Reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Year Eleah Parker finished with 10 points, nine rebound and three blocks but she too struggled with foul trouble and was in and out of the lineup. Junior Phoebe Sterba provided a spark with 15 points including four three-pointers. She spearheaded Penn’s 24-point third quarter with 11 straight points to close out the period. Her pull-up jumper from the wing gave the Quakers a 52-42 lead heading into fourth.
Sterba, who has hit at least four three-pointers in seven games this season, noted that the discussion throughout the year, even into the final weekend of the regular season, was about handling things on the court and not looking ahead to what comes afterward.
“We were all super excited and [Coach McLaughlin] hadn’t mentioned the Ivy League Tournament or title until after this game,” Sterba said. “He wanted to make sure we had our minds focused and were going game by game. We have it at our forefront and what we’re doing now is for that tournament.”
The game appeared to unravel for the Quakers in the fourth as they only had a total of four points, all on free throws, and shot 0-15 from the field as a team. The Crimson cut into the lead with three of their 11 made triples coming in the last quarter of regulation. Katie Benzan (10 points) hit a trey to cut the deficit to seven then later Nani Redford decreased the lead to 54-51 with 5:09 remaining. She hit the game-tying triple with 2:41 left. After Jones hit a pair of free throws, Madeline Raster missed a three-pointer to win it but Jadyn Bush, who led Harvard with 14 points, grabbed the offensive rebound and converted the basket to tie the game and force overtime.
Sterba had an opportunity to win the game with 0.6 seconds on the clock but her shot ricocheted off the back of the iron. Luckily, Jones took control of the game in the extra period to vault the Quakers back into the Ivy League Tournament.
Jones felt this game was a huge step forward and, if she continues to produce, that adds another dimension to the Quakers rotation as they head to the postseason.
“You just play your role,” Jones said. “My role is to change the tempo of the game when I get in and that’s what I do. I’m not worried about starting or coming off the bench. It doesn’t matter as long as when I’m in that I’m producing whether it be offensively or defensively.”
The Quakers are right back on the hardwood as they host Dartmouth tonight. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m at the Palestra.