It’s one thing to get a second chance. Or even a third.
William Penn (Iowa) University’s Torren Jones is working on his fourth chance at his fourth school in as many years. And it just may culminate in NAIA player of the year honors and a national championship.
Jones, a 6-9 senior forward who began his college career at Missouri, has powered the Statesmen to the NAIA Tournament’s semifinals. William Penn staged a come-from-behind, 84-80 victory over Langston (Okla.) University in Saturday afternoon’s quarterfinals at Municipal Auditorium.
“He’s a special player,” said Statesmen coach John Henry after Jones scored 22 points with 16 rebounds despite missing much of the first half because of foul trouble. “We’re blessed to have him. He’s been no problem all year. He’s a great teammate, fun to be around. He doesn’t like officiating very much, but we think we have it under control at the right time.”
Jones was an energetic, physical force as a freshman at Missouri, where he appeared in 30 games and averaged 2.1 points and 2.3 rebounds in just 8 minutes per game, including an 11-rebound game at Auburn.
But in the spring of 2014, Jones was dismissed from the team by incoming coach Kim Anderson for violating undisclosed team rules.
Jones spent a year of purgatory in junior college at Midland (Texas) before resurfacing last season at Fresno State, where he started 17 games and averaged 10.5 points and 7.9 rebounds for a Bulldogs team that qualified for the NCAA Tournament. But he was booted from the program last April for more violations of team rules.
That led him to William Penn, where he has led a second-year Division I program to a 33-3 record by averaging 19.9 points and 11.8 rebounds, with a nation-leading 27 double-doubles.
“Young mistakes,” Jones said of his washing out at Missouri and Fresno State. “Just being young, in that spotlight, I didn’t know how to handle it well. A couple of things went a little bumpy, and I fell off the track, you can say.
“I wasn’t focused as much as I should have been. And that messed up my opportunity at Fresno … so luckily, God blessed me with an opportunity to play at William Penn and gave me a good team and we’re doing our thing.”
Henry didn’t think twice about extending an opportunity to Jones, who was accompanied to William Penn by another Fresno State transfer, guard Lionel Ellison, who was looking for more playing time.
“Torren had some personal issues but we worked them out, and everybody deserves a second or third chance, and that’s what we have allowed him to do,” Henry said. “Every young man makes mistakes. I know I did … you probably did, too. Who are we to say after a mistake or two … we throw them away? Give them a chance. It helps he has talent. I’m not going to lie … but he’s been golden for us, and I’m glad we did it.”
So far in the NAIA tournament, Jones has averaged 27.3 points and 16.0 rebounds in three games, including a season-best 36 points in a second-round win over Westmont (Calif) College.
He still keeps tabs from afar on his former NCAA programs, but isn’t looking back.
“Most of my friends at Fresno and Mizzou, they’re not playing in tournaments or in postseason games,” Jones said. “I’m in the postseason right now, and I’m doing well. That’s what matters. This is a fourth chance, and I’m making the best of it.”
LSU Alexandria 84, Pikeville (Ky.) 80, OT: LSU Alexandria saves sophomore guard Donovan Thomas for moments like this.
Thomas, a defensive specialist, played just 78 seconds of the second half in Saturday night’s quarterfinal against Pikeville (Ky.) in the NAIA Tournament at Municipal Auditorium, but he made the biggest play of the game.
With 9 seconds left in overtime and LSU Alexandria leading by three, Thomas intercepted a pass that preserved the top-seeded Generals’ 84-80 overtime win.
It was his only mark on the stat sheet.
“I have a specific role,” Thomas said. “I just played the next pass. They put me in for defense and told me to come back with any 50-50 ball, and that’s what I did.”
LSU Alexandria led 80-77 when leading scorer Brandon Moss was called for traveling with 31.8 seconds to play. Thomas immediately entered the game, and after his steal, Jordin Williams made four of four free throws that enabled LSU Alexandria, 34-0, to stay unbeaten.
“There were several plays in that game that were big,” Generals coach Larry Cordaro said of Thomas’ interception. “That’s one that I’ll look back on in a couple of weeks and want to watch it. But now we have to move on.”
The Generals, who had not played an overtime game all season, and had played just four games decided by four points or fewer, will face Life (Ga.) University at 6 p.m. Monday.
LSU Alexandria, in just its third season of basketball, has won more games in a single season than any college team in Louisiana history. And the Generals, who were eliminated in the first round of the 2015 NAIA Tournament and second round last year, are bidding to become the first school from Louisiana to win the NAIA Tournament since Willis Reed led Grambling to the 1961 title.
“We haven’t stayed this late in Kansas City,” Cordaro said. ‘We kind of came up and gone back home on short trips. We knew if we could win this one, we could get into that Final Four and have a chance to play for a national championship.
“It’s right there.”
Moss led the Generals with 20 points, including the first six in overtime. Guard Trey Rakes had 21 for Pikeville, 28-8.
Life (Ga.) 73, Carroll (Mont.) 71: Carroll’s Ryan Imhoff missed a last-second jump shot, enabling the Running Eagles to escape with the victory.
Life was led by Dalarian Williams’ 22 points and Zach Landis’ 15 points and 15 rebounds.
Imhoff led Carroll with 27 points.
Texas Wesleyan 82, Dalton State (Ga.) 73: Dion Rogers scored 22 points, and Ryan Harris and Najeal Young added 19 each for the Rams.
Isaiah Box had 20 points for the Roadrunners.