NJCAA Game 22: South Suburban College 79, Parkland College 70

Mar. 21—DANVILLE — All of the talk coming into the 2024 NJCAA Division II National Tournament centered around South Suburban sophomore guard Jemel Jones.

The 6-foot-4 sophomore from Eisenhower High School in Blue Island was averaging 33.3 points per game — which is not only the highest in NJCAA Division II, it's the highest for any level of NJCAA basketball, male or female. It's also higher than either Purdue's Zach Edey or Iowa Caitlin Clark — the prohibited favorites to be named National Player of the Year at the NCAA Division I level.

And that's why a number of NCAA Division I coaches are in the bleachers at the Mary Miller Center this week and Jones continues to impress.

On Thursday night, he scored a game-high 39 points making numerous off-balanced and seemingly circus-type shots as South Suburban defeated Parkland College 79-70 in a quarterfinal contest.

"He is a special player. I told everybody all through the year and I told all these Division I coaches that he is the best college basketball player that I've ever coaches," said South Suburban coach John Pigatti, who has been a NCAA Division I assistant at seven schools (Akron, Chicago State, Creighton, Kent State, St. Francis (Pa.), Texas A&M and Western Michigan).

Additionally, Pigatti has coached five NJCAA Division II Players of the Year in the past 12 seasons from Michael Harris in 2013, Jovan Mooring in 2016, Courtney Carter in 2020, Deshawndre Washington in 2021 and Damarco Minor in 2022.

"We've had great players here. We've had five players of the year and 18 NJCAA All-Americans," Pigatti said. "He's better than all of them.

"He can do so many things and he is only going to get better. Because he is not strong enough yet. When he goes to a Division I school, he is going to get bigger, stronger, faster."

Talent is a big part of his success, but how does Jones hit so many off-balanced shots from different spots on the floor?

"I work on those angles. I feel very comfortable taking those shots," said Jones, who Pigatti calls his hardest worker. "Spending my life and my days in the gym, just constantly shooting the ball. I'm trying different angles and different elevations all of the time. Just working on my game."

Pigatti says that all of the hard work has paid off.

"One of the reasons he is so successful when he does all of that flinging crap at the basket is because his form is so good — his elbow is always in the middle of his body," the veteran coach said. "He is also a competitor, sometimes too much of a competitor where we have to reel him in a little bit."

That wasn't really necessary on Thursday against Parkland.

In addition to his 39 points, Jones also pulled down a team-high seven rebounds and he dished out four assists.

"I enjoy being part of the team. I enjoy my role. I enjoy the people I'm playing with," he said. "I enjoy everything about it."

With the quarterfinal win, the Bulldogs (33-2) advances to Friday's semifinal round and a 8 p.m. contest with the third-seeded Ellsworth College Panthers.

"The job is not finished," Jones said.

Parkland, which was led in scoring by JaMonte Williams with 23 points off the bench and Jabryn Anderson with 21, will play Des Moines Area Community College in a consolation game on Friday.

South Suburban College 79, Parkland College 70

Parkland (70) — Jabryn Anderson 5-10 10-12 21, Brylan Phillips 2-8 0-0 4, Tye Banks 4-8 1-2 9, Grant Coleman 0-7 0-0 0, Fabio Da Rocha 1-1 0-0 2, Drew Lewis Jr. 3-8 2-2 8, Ken Sallee 1-5 0-0 3, JaMonte Williams 10-13 2-4 23. Totals: 26-60 15-20 70.

South Suburban (79) — Julius Byrd 2-6 2-2 7, Kenton Wright Jr. 0-6 2-2 2, LeQuan Washington 3-6 2-2 8, Jemel Jones 13-24 11-12 39. Chris Harrison 1-5 0-0 2, Brandon Adorno 0-0 0-0 0, Quentin Heady 3-11 5-12 11, Tremear Fraley 5-8 0-0 10. Totals: 27-66 22-30 79.

Parkland '30 '40 '— '70

South Suburban '32 '47 '— '79

3-pointers — Parkland 3-18 (Anderson 1-1, Sallee 1-5, Williams 1-1, Phillips 0-3, Banks 0-1, Coleman 0-4, Lewis Jr. 0-3). South Suburban 3-9 (Jones 2-3, Byrd 1-2, Wright Jr. 0-2, Harrison 0-2). Rebounds — Parkland 36 (Anderson 6). South Suburban 44 (Heady 9). Assists — Parkland 9 (Phillips 3). South Suburban 10 (Wright Jr. 5). Turnovers — Parkland 10, South Suburban 11. Total fouls — Parkland 16, South Suburban 19. Fouled out — Fraley. Technical fouls — Phillips and Parkland coach John Bowler.

Records — Parkland College 29-5 overall. South Suburban 33-2 overall.