'I keep my fingers crossed': UM's DeVante' Jones on track to play in Sweet 16

James Hawkins
The Detroit News

San Antonio — It took grad transfer guard DeVante’ Jones five years to reach the NCAA Tournament. All it took was five seconds for the long-awaited opportunity to be taken away.

Before Michigan hit the road for its first-round game against Colorado State last week, Jones took a shot to the nose area on a drive to the basket in practice. After that blow, reality quickly set in and he ended up in concussion protocol.

“Right when it happened, my head felt crazy and things like that,” Jones recalled Wednesday after the team's practice at AT&T Center. “I didn't feel normal, so I knew that I would probably be out for the first game.”

Michigan guard DeVante' Jones (12) is guarded by Illinois guard Andre Curbelo (5) in the first half.

That started a week where Jones, Michigan’s starting point guard who spent his previous four years at Coastal Carolina, went through a roller coaster of emotions and had to wait a little bit longer to make his first March Madness appearance.

When the Wolverines made the trip to Indianapolis, he stayed behind in Ann Arbor to recover from the head injury. From a “dark room” at home, he watched his teammates fall behind by 15 points, 15 minutes into the game, before they rallied for a 75-63 win.

“I was excited throughout the whole game,” said Jones, who appears on track to play in Thursday's Sweet 16 showdown against Villanova. “The first half I was kind of nervous. It was playing on my emotions. Second half, they got together, and I was excited they won.”

The win kept Michigan’s season alive and gave Jones another chance to make his dream come true by playing in the NCAA Tournament. He rejoined the team the next day and returned to the starting lineup for the second-round game against Tennessee.

But even Jones’ delayed debut was cut short. He played 12 minutes in the first half — recording two points, three assists and three rebounds — but didn’t return after he checked out with 1:43 left before halftime.

After the break, Jones never appeared on the bench and remained back in the locker room the entire second half. According to the CBS broadcast, Jones was ruled out because he was reportedly feeling ill. CBS sideline reporter Jamie Erdahl reported Jones was “receiving treatment.”

Following the win over Tennessee, coach Juwan Howard didn’t offer specifics and said he was simply told by the team’s athletic trainer, Chris Williams, that Jones couldn’t go in the second half.  

“I can't say too much. I just wasn't feeling my 100 percent self,” Jones explained Wednesday. “I didn't want to be selfish to the team because I knew we had a guard like Frankie Collins who come in and get the job done.

“I tweeted it the day or two before (the Colorado State game) that he's going to get the job done. He's a great point guard. He's young, but he understands his role on the team. He’s an athletic, quick guard who can get downhill and score for himself or make plays for others. And he's very good on defense as well.”

Thanks to Collins as well as superb play from sophomore center Hunter Dickinson and fifth-year senior guard Eli Brooks and two critical tip-ins from sophomore forward Terrance Williams II against the Volunteers, Jones will get another crack at a memorable March moment.

After practicing Tuesday and Wednesday, Jones appears healthy and is eyeing a full return for Thursday’s regional semifinal.

“Right now, he's looking good,” Howard said. “He's improved a lot with his health. We will know more tomorrow morning as far as how he feels when it comes to recovery as he wakes up. But I keep my fingers crossed, and we're praying that he will be available for (Thursday).”

When asked how he’d manage the point guard minutes if Jones is back in the fold, Howard noted that Collins didn’t look like a freshman and “looked like he belongs” on the big stage.

After an injury-filled start to his NCAA Tournament, Jones is ready to do the same for a full game.

“At first it was a little bit emotional for me,” Jones said of the past week. “Then I got myself together, and seeing how the team was playing so well, doing so great and getting victories. That's the main thing for me.

“Obviously, I want to play here in March Madness, but I was so happy for my teammates being able to win through that type of adversity.”

Subscriber: March Madness 2022: Michigan vs. Villanova scouting report

Subscriber: March Madness 2022 — Detroit News Michigan-Villanova predictions

Big Ten banter

For the second straight year, the Big Ten received nine bids into the Big Dance, the most of any other conference in the nation. And for the second straight year, the majority of the Big Ten teams have failed to make it out the first weekend.

Last season, Michigan was the only Big Ten team to reach the Sweet 16. This season it’s a similar story, with Michigan and Purdue the only two to reach a regional semifinal.

When asked for his take on how the league has fared, Howard said his only focus has been on Michigan. Dickinson, on the other hand, didn’t mind taking a shot at some of the fan bases of Big Ten teams that beat the Wolverines during the regular season and have been eliminated.

“This season was definitely not the best,” Dickinson said. “Other fans definitely let us know that, particularly Michigan State, Illinois, Ohio State. Who else? There was another team.”

After taking a pause and turning to Jones, Brooks and freshman forward Caleb Houstan, who were all sitting to his right at the podium, Dickinson finished his list with Wisconsin.

“Oh, the team down in Madison, the red and white team. They definitely let us know how they felt about our season,” Dickinson said before closing his thought in a joking manner. “We heard those NIT chants. They were hurtful. They definitely hurt. It's funny how they'll be watching us on Thursday back in their cribs.”

NCAA Tournament

No. 11 Michigan vs. No. 2 Villanova

►Tip-off: 7:29 p.m. Thursday, AT&T Center, San Antonio

►TV/radio: TBS/950

►Records: Michigan 19-14, Villanova 28-7

►Line: Villanova by 5

►Outlook: This is the sixth all-time meeting between the teams and third encounter in the NCAA Tournament. Villanova beat Michigan, 79-62, in the 2018 national title game in San Antonio. … Villanova is riding a seven-game win streak and beat No. 7 Ohio State, 71-61, to reach its third Sweet 16 in the past four tournaments. … The winner will face either No. 1 Arizona or No. 5 Houston in the Elite Eight on Saturday.

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jhawkins@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins