Never one to lack confidence, it has not been the easiest of seasons for Jairus Lyles. The DeMatha junior has seen his spot in the starting lineup and minutes in the rotation vary as Coach Mike Jones seeks ways to motivate the shooting guard with plenty of potential.
“Jairus is too talented for any coach that coaches him to allow him . . . to not be focused,” Jones said. “Sometimes not starting or not playing as much is the way you do that. It’s worked to various levels of success.”
In recent weeks, though, Lyles had worked his way out of Jones’s doghouse and back into the starting lineup. On Friday night, he banked in a halfcourt shot at the halftime buzzer and then played a key role after floor leader James Robinson was ejected as the third-ranked Stags pulled away for a surprisingly lopsided 76-47 victory over second-ranked Gonzaga before a capacity crowd of 1,800 in Hyattsville.
Syracuse recruit Jerami Grant led DeMatha with 19 points and junior center BeeJay Anya added 15 points and 11 rebounds as DeMatha won its fifth in a row. The Stags (23-3, 13-2 Washington Catholic Athletic Conference) had lost the teams’ first meeting, 76-74.
The key to the victory Friday was Lyles, who is emerging as a potential top college prospect. He has the ability to score in bunches and does not hesitate to look for his own shot. When Robinson, a Pittsburgh recruit, was called for his second technical foul of the game midway through the third quarter, the spotlight was squarely on Lyles to move to point guard.
“Jairus Lyles stepped up,” Jones said. “He’s going to be the point guard next year, so it was an early audition for him, so to speak. Show people he can play on and off the ball.”
So far, Jones said, Oklahoma State is the only school to offer Lyles a scholarship. Virginia Tech, Penn State, Wake Forest, Seton Hall and VCU also are recruiting him.
“The rest of them, I don’t know what they’re waiting on,” Jones said. “Maybe this will help.”
The game was electric early, tied at 17 after one quarter. DeMatha led 30-27 and was inbounding the ball under its own basket with 1.9 seconds when Lyles took a pass, dribbled and let fly from the left side of the court.
“I make that all the time in practice,” Lyles said, adding that he makes two of every five he takes in practice. “I might even make two in a row.”
With momentum heading into the locker room, DeMatha started the second half with a 14-0 run.