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Tuesday, March 5, 2024
The Observer

Irish role players need to step up

Losing two scorers like Matt Carroll and Dan Miller left the Irish looking to replace 33.4 points each night they step on the court.Naturally, Irish coach Mike Brey is looking to his role players from last year - namely Jordan Cornette, Torrian Jones and Chris Quinn - to become bigger scorers this year. Last season, that trio averaged a combined 11.8 points per game.That's a major jump for those three players to make, but if the Irish are to continue to score a lot of points, that jump is necessary, and they are ready."Over the years, I've kind of played hesitant on the offensive end," Jones said. "I think this year, with Coach Brey really encouraging me and letting me know that he has confidence in me on the court, that's helping me go out on the court and play free of mind."Friday night against the Illinois All-Stars, Jones did just that. In the second half, when the Irish had cooled down from their torrid first half 3-point shooting, Jones took advantage of his slower defender and made a number of moves to the basket. Each of those drives resulted in an easy bucket.Using his athletic ability, which has been so present on the defensive end, is something his teammates were glad to see. "With Torrian, he did a hell of a job slashing to the rim, dunking on people and the biggest thing was those two free throws," guard Chris Thomas said. "We always knew he had that kind of identity about himself. He had great aura, great leadership."Being named one of four captains for the Irish this year, Jones had a chance in the exhibition season to display that leadership. The Irish needed two free throws against the Illinois All-Stars with 1.4 seconds remaining to avoid an exhibition loss.Jones was just a 67.2 percent shooter from the charity strip last year. While he doesn't want to discard what made him a shutdown defensive player in his first three years with the Irish, he's ready to undertake new roles this year."I'm the energy guy. That's my role since I was a freshman. Even though I'm looking to be more of a scorer this year, I'm still trying to find ways to bring energy offensively," Jones said. "I try to get big rebounds, big defensive stops, blocks, anything I can do to get this team getting some momentum in the right direction. "I think [Friday night] I was able to do that in the second half with a couple of drives to the basket to the lane and making those big free throws at the end."Cornette took on a new role in the first half, keeping the Irish in the game on 4-of-5 shooting on 3-pointers, including scoring nine straight points for the Irish at one point. In his first game this season, Cornette was ready to show off his offensive game - something many are looking for the junior to do in 2003-04."I think people have been in my ear about asserting myself offensively. The capabilities I know I have, I just have to be able to show them out on the court as much," Cornette said. "[Friday night], and as the season goes on, I think I'm going to have more opportunities to present myself offensively and just show everybody what I am capable of doing. I'm confident I can do that."Quinn also helped the Irish match the Illinois All-Stars hot shooting Friday night going 4-of-4 from behind the arc. With Brey planning on using Thomas and Quinn on the court at the same time a lot this season, Quinn will see a lot of minutes this year along with Cornette and Jones. Those increased minutes force Brey to expect his former role-players to become scorers. Against the Illinois All-Stars, those three got their first chance to step it up offensively. Brey was pleased with how they reacted."To have them do it in this situation where you could have lost the game, just helps you," Brey said. "[Torrian] is a senior, but to make two free throws like that, that's going to help. Chris Quinn having to make plays at the end. Jordan having to make some big shots at times, especially in the first half, those were all key things. "I like the fact that the new guys have had a lot of experience in their new roles before we tee it up for real [against Northern Illinois]."