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NCAA Tournament First Four: Radford’s Carlik Jones thrives in homecoming

Jones guided Radford to the win in a familiar venue

NCAA Basketball Tournament - First Four - Dayton Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

DAYTON — Radford, Virginia is over 300 miles from Dayton, Ohio, but at least one Highlander felt right at home during Tuesday night’s First Four win over LIU Brooklyn.

Carlik Jones played his high school basketball at Aiken High School on the north-side of Cincinnati, less than an hour drive from University of Dayton Arena. Tuesday night’s game might as well have been a homecoming for Jones.

With a sizable cheering section of friends and family, Jones put on a show. He flirted with a triple-double, ending the game with 12 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists. Certainly, playing so close to home fueled him. Jones said he had “received multiple text messages from friends and family” saying they would be at the game. That’s something he doesn’t get to enjoy playing back in Virginia.

“I’ve had a lot of friends and family members who haven’t been able to make it to some of the away games or some of the home games out there in Radford. It’s about six hours from Cincinnati.”

Compounding the distance issue, Jones had to redshirt his first season at Radford. Head coach Mike Jones described that first year at Radford as tough on Carlik.

“These guys, their identity is so closely tied in with basketball. And for that to be taken away from a young man is very difficult, especially a young man who’s five or six hours away from home,” Jones said.

But once he was able to hit the court, playing away from friends and family in Virginia wasn’t so much of a hardship. Jones had a successful first year on the court and was awarded Big South Freshman of the Year. He averaged 12 points and 3.6 assists per game during conference play, both tops among freshmen in the Big South.

His biggest moment, however, came in the Big South Tournament championship game. Jones calmly buried a three as time expired to beat Liberty and send his team to the NCAA Tournament.

Little did Jones know, he was booking himself a trip back home to play in front of loved ones. Nor did he realize he would be giving himself another shot to win at UD Arena. During his high school career, Jones got the opportunity to play at UD Arena three times. But the results weren’t exactly to his liking, going just 1-2 in those games. While he picked up the win during his senior year at Aiken, Jones wanted another crack at UD Arena.

“I kind of really got a bad taste in my mouth going 1-2 here. So I would love to be back here and get a big win,” Jones said.

Jones did not waste his opportunity. He was instrumental in Radford’s win over LIU Brooklyn. The win was Radford’s first ever in the NCAA Tournament and 23rd on the season, a new program record. And of course, it evened out Jones’ record at UD Arena to a respectable 2-2.

As for Jones’ thoughts on advancing to play Villanova on Thursday in Pittsburgh, it’s hard not to be excited about it. He said, “I mean, I’m hyped about it. Right now it’s not really much I could say. I’m just happy we got this win and looking forward to playing them.”

Understandably, Jones and Radford are living in the moment.