Dalton Knecht was cooking. So Purdue's Lance Jones 'wanted to shut his water off.'

by 24USATVApril 1, 2024, 2 a.m. 22
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DETROIT — Moments after playing the most important 34 minutes of his basketball career, Purdue guard Lance Jones walked from the media interview room to the bowels of the Little Caesars Arena.

The Boilermakers had just made history. They punched their ticket to Purdue's first Final Four since 1980 and before Jones reached the locker room, he turned to Purdue's communications director Chris Forman and said, "I need to get in the cold tub, I'm feeling it."

A fitting statement from the player who had the most unenviable job of Purdue's matchup against Tennessee — chasing Volunteers guard Dalton Knecht through screen after screen as the sharpshooter tried to keep his team in the game.

"Just sticking with it," Jones said of guarding Knecht. "I'm just trying to be physical, make his catches limited, push the ball out when he catches the ball and just try to make it hard on him defensively. He can rise up over me and shoot over smaller guards. So, I just wanted to do whatever is necessary."

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There was never any doubt in who would receive the assignment of guarding Knecht, a projected NBA draft lottery pick. The Boilermakers consider Jones one of the best defenders in the nation, and his strength and quickness allow him to matchup with multiple types of guards.

In spite of the added defensive pressure, Knecht found a way to navigate Jones's pressure early. The 6-6 transfer from Northern Colorada finished with 37 points, but he needed 31 shots to do it. Knecht started 4-for-4 from 3, but Jones's confidence in his defense never wavered. Knecht, the SEC Player of the Year, finished 2-for-8 from 3, and Jones forced just enough misses to keep the Vols from pulling off the comeback.

"I just wanted to make my main priority to lock in defensively," Jones said. "If you lock in defensively, it trickles down and helps everybody. ... (Knecht) was cooking, so I wanted to do everything I could to shut his water off."

The bruises and body aches that come from being a tenacious perimeter defender are only temporary. What will remain in Jones' mind for the rest of his life are the memories he's building with this team. The Evanston, Ill. native has quickly embraced Boilermaker culture after transferring in from Southern Illinois this offseason. He went viral after dancing along with the Purdue crowd during a game.

He's brought infectious energy and presence to a team that suffered a monumental upset in the NCAA tournament to St. Peter's last season. Jones wanted a family atmosphere. When his father Robert Jones died before Lance ever played a game at Purdue, the entire basketball team attended the funeral. It was at that point Jones knew Purdue was the place for him.

"It feels amazing," Jones's mother Katie Legrone said after Purdue's Elite Eight victory. "Purdue is a family. I am just so proud and grateful to be a part of it. I'm just so glad they accepted my son."

On his first visit to Purdue, NIL and what perks he could receive from committing were never discussed. Jones just wanted to win, and he's quickly before a key part to a Final Four team.

"Lance, in my opinion, I think he's one of the best defenders in all of college basketball," Purdue forward Camden Heide said. "When he is locked in and he's putting pressure on the ball, it is hard for anyone to score against him."

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