By BRIAN LESTER
Quaran Jones separated himself from the scene of a championship celebration last March.
As his University of Findlay teammates took turns cutting down pieces of the net after the 2013 Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament championship game against Lake Superior State, Jones walked around a hallway outside the SDC Gymnasium at Michigan Tech.
He meant no disrespect by his actions. It’s just that, as a freshman taking a redshirt year, he didn’t feel like he had earned the right to take a piece of the net.
“It was a little bit of a pride thing, a little bit of wanting to earn my keep,” Jones said. “I didn’t mean anything bad by it. I just think that earning something feels a lot better than just being a part of it.”
Jones practiced with the Oilers last season, but this year, the 6-foot-6, 225-pound center is getting a chance to play a part in the team’s success as a key bench player.
Through eight games for the 12th-ranked Oilers, Jones is averaging 5.1 points and 3.0 rebounds per game. He has also blocked four shots.
“I took a redshirt year last year, and I’ll admit, it was pretty tough watching every game and not playing. It was rough practicing and not seeing any court time,” Jones said. “But my time has finally come around and I’m just trying to make the best of it.”
Jones is doing that by working hard.
“At the beginning of the season, I was having issues with playing hard and playing to my full potential,” Jones said. “Now I’m trying to maximize my time and maximize my minutes.”
UF head coach Charlie Ernst said he has noticed the strides Jones has made from an effort standpoint.
“He’s learning how to play college basketball at a high level, and we are learning at the same time of how to take advantage of it,” Ernst said. “So often as coaches, and I’m as guilty as anyone, you focus on a player’s weaknesses rather than his strengths. I’ve had to convince myself that he has some big strengths that we need to take advantage of.”
Jones will have a chance to further his progress Thursday when the Oilers (7-1, 3-1 GLIAC) square off against Ferris State (5-3, 4-0) in an 8 pm. game at Jim Wink Arena in Big Rapids, Mich.
The Bulldogs have won five consecutive games and are off to their best start in conference play since 2005 when they played in the Sweet 16.
Ferris State averages 78.5 points per game and allows 79. Junior guard Drew Lehman has been the leader of the Bulldogs, clicking for 14.8 points per outing. He has nailed 11 3-pointers.
Sophomore center Jared Stolicker is averaging 13.0 ppg and is grabbing 7.6 rebounds per game. Junior guard/forward Matt Poches averages 11.5 ppg and has dished out 18 assists.
Ferris State is shooting 44.6 percent from the field and is holding opponents to 43.6 percent shooting. The Bulldogs average only 11 turnovers per game and force 11.6 per outing.
The Bulldogs are the first of two teams the Oilers will play on the road this week. Findlay closes its road swing with a crucial game against Grand Valley State (8-0, 4-0) at 3 p.m. Saturday in Allendale, Mich.
The Oilers, who have shot over 50 percent from the field seven times and are led by senior forward Greg Kahlig (20.4 ppg), haven’t played since Dec. 21 when they rolled to a 114-82 win over Notre Dame College for their third consecutive win.
“It doesn’t get any easier, and back on the road we go,” Ernst said. “Our team has two things going for us. Number one, we’ve already had one long break and we came back and played pretty well after that. Secondly, we’ve played some difficult road games already, and we’ve played pretty well in those games. It’s going to need to happen again because we are playing two quality opponents on their home floors.”
Jones, who put in a lot of time in the weight room in the offseason, has gotten a taste of what life in the GLIAC is like and has adapted to the speed and physicality of the college game. He knows he and everyone else on the team will have to play their roles well in order to thrive on the road.
“Coach Ernst says all of the time that everyone has a role, and my role is to rebound, block shots and score when I can,” Jones said. “If I do my role and everyone else takes care of their role, we will be successful.”
UF women back in action
After two games in the south, the UF women’s basketball team returns to action tonight in a 6 p.m. game against Ferris State. The Oilers defeated St. Thomas in Florida last Thursday, 63-56, but lost 73-66 to Young Harris in the Bahamas.
Findlay (5-3, 2-2 GLIAC) will be looking to end a two-game conference losing streak when it battles the Bulldogs (2-4, 2-2), who are coming off a 79-69 win over Tiffin.
Sarah DeShone is the go-to player for FSU, averaging 20 points per outing. The senior guard has made 16 3-pointers as well and has tallied 14 steals.
Redshirt sophomore guard Dena Droste is also averaging in double figures, clicking for 12.5 ppg, and the Bulldogs are averaging 71.3 points per outing while allowing 73.7.
The Oilers have yet to lose a road game, winning four times away from home, and are led by former Riverdale standout Lacey Kessler, who is averaging 13.3 ppg and has led UF in scoring five times. The junior forward is shooting 52 percent from the floor and has tallied 13 steals.
UF wraps up its road swing with a 1 p.m. against GVSU (5-3, 3-1) on Saturday.
Follow me on Twitter: @BLester1993.