As Maryland women’s basketball forward Stephanie Jones rose up for a 3-pointer midway through the first half against Georgia on Saturday, coach Brenda Frese likely questioned the shot selection.
Jones had never made a shot from behind the arc in her career. But, as the attempt rattled home for three of her team-high 21 points, Mark Thomas — who is Frese’s husband and was in Puerto Rico as the broadcast announcer — remarked the make was emblematic of the work the junior had put into her stroke during the offseason.
It was Jones’ day, and as no other Terp finished with more than eight points against the Bulldogs, her performance was necessary in the 58-51 defensive struggle with Georgia. With a 10-point, 11-rebound outing Friday against Morgan State, Jones has been one of the few consistent contributors for Maryland during the young season.
“Stephanie Jones was fantastic,” Frese said. “She was our MVP of this tournament. Her play both nights allowed us to be successful.”
Jones did most of her damage against the Bulldogs in the early stages. She netted 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting before halftime, which propelled Maryland to a 37-30 lead after 20 minutes.
But when Jones slowed down in the second half, the Terps were left looking for answers. The 6-foot-2 frontcourt player went 2-for-6 after halftime. For a nearly 15-minute basketless stretch that began early in the second quarter and didn’t cease until the late stages of the third quarter, the team couldn’t find a solution.
Guard Kaila Charles finally ended the slump with a lay-up with just more than three minutes before the final frame, and Maryland held on to the lead in the fourth quarter despite shooting only 40.4 percent from the field and turning it over 15 times throughout the game.
While their offense scuffled, the Terps’ defense stepped up, as it has frequently so far this season. Maryland held Georgia to a paltry 26.9 percent shooting clip for the game, but to compete on the national stage, early offensive deficiencies will need to be sorted out.
So as the Terps struggle to maintain a consistent offensive output, Jones has been a key cog during the 6-0 start.
The Havre de Grace product’s 14.3 points per game ranks second behind Charles’ 14.5. And Jones is scoring at an efficient rate.
As a whole, Maryland is shooting 45.6 percent from the field through six games. Jones, with a 61.3 percent clip from the field, is one of three players to convert over half her attempts. Guard Blair Watson has made 52.3 percent of her shots, and center Olivia Owens has made three of her five shots.
Jones has been the one constant scoring presence for the Terps, and as much of the team had trouble scoring against Georgia, Jones proved to be a vital presence during the Puerto Rico Classic.
“We found a way with pure toughness to grit this win out against a tremendous SEC team like Georgia," Frese said. "They’re extremely athletic, but [I’m] proud of the 40-minute fight we put together.”