“You’re asking me to reach really far back,” Jones said.
It was an 83-70 win over Michigan for then-No. 3 Maryland on Jan. 19, 2017, a game in which Jones’s sister, Brionna, poured in a team-high 25 points, perhaps satisfying the family quota for the night. Jones thought she would remember the occasion, seeing as it was the first and last game she ever missed for the Terps, but to be fair, there have been 128 others in her career. And missing anything — be it games, buckets or free throws — isn’t really Jones’s style.
“Her post presence, her finishing — she’s probably almost 100 percent every game,” sophomore center Shakira Austin said Sunday. “Like, it’s ridiculous.”
Jones isn’t quite a 100 percent shooter, but the senior from Havre de Grace, Md., has undoubtedly been Maryland’s steadiest player as the Terps continue to cut through the Big Ten with three games left in conference play. On Sunday, when the Terps turned a one-point halftime lead into a 37-point blowout victory, she led Maryland (22-4, 13-2 Big Ten) with a season-high 21 points and 11 rebounds, buoying the Terps with 17 points during the slow first half in which senior classmates Kaila Charles and Blair Watson were both held scoreless.
Jones shot 9 for 11 from the field and made 3 of 4 from the free throw line, a typical outing for Maryland’s most efficient offensive weapon. The forward is shooting 59.7 percent from the field this season and is a 58.6 percent shooter in her college career.
“She doesn’t get too high and too low,” Maryland Coach Brenda Frese said. “She’s playing with that sense of urgency that seniors have, and you just know that every night you’re not going to have to worry that she’s going to be thinking in a different direction. She’s just always going to show up.”
Not every player would be as pleased with the “Miss Consistency” moniker Frese often throws around for Jones. Her shooting percentage is her only number that pops looking at Maryland’s stat sheet — otherwise, she is the team’s fifth-leading scorer (10.7 points per game) and third-best rebounder (5.4 rebounds). The 6-foot-2 forward tends to fly under the radar on a roster with flashy talent such as Charles and three-point assassin Taylor Mikesell.
But Jones doesn’t mind. Both she and Frese view that type of Swiss Army knife quality as Jones’s greatest strength, especially as the Terps inch closer to the postseason. Jones’s value as the team’s even, steady leader increases at this time of year when the routine of the regular season is lost and Maryland begins to travel more.
Her consistency is what Frese noticed about Jones when she first started watching her in high school — the forward so ardently hated to lose that she would unleash everything in her arsenal to ensure victory. Her competitiveness helped shape her well-rounded game.
“She was always going to have the intangibles,” Frese said. “She’s been that glue player for us, and sometimes it doesn’t even have to show up on a stat sheet. She’s going to be there defensively and set a great screen and make all the right plays. Today was special. I thought she was dialed in from the tip, and we needed every point, every rebound we got from her tonight. She had a sensational game for us.”
Even when the senior first got to Maryland, she didn’t want to rush into things or go too big too soon. Jones was coming off an ACL injury and relied on her older sister, a senior at Maryland when Jones was a freshman, to acclimate little by little.
“I was just soaking everything in . . . just easing myself into everything and not pushing myself too fast,” Jones said. “Over the past four years, being really steady and consistent has kind of been my thing.”
The forward’s even-keeled personality is as consistent as her game. Jones smiles through games even when she ends up sprawled facedown on the court, as she did three times Sunday, after diving for a steal or reaching for a rebound.
Frese often tells her she needs to see more of what the team calls “mean Steph,” when the senior muscles through the paint or claims jump balls with force. But the Terps often benefit from Jones’s presence no matter how mean she plays.
Austin, who added 16 points and eight rebounds against the Nittany Lions (7-19, 1-14), called her a calming force in practice and games if the Terps ever get out of sorts. When Frese briefly took her out of the starting lineup this season, Maryland missed Jones’s focus at the start of games.
But to Jones, it hasn’t mattered whether she has been in the starting five or coming off the bench. Her job has remained the same for four years.
“I felt like I could do the same thing coming off the bench,” Jones said with a shrug. “It shouldn’t matter whether you’re starting or coming off the bench. What you produce on the floor is what you can do, and you can’t do anything more than that.”
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