Mark Lyons and former Arizona guard Lamont “MoMo” Jones have similar styles on the basketball court — 6-foot-1 confident shooting guards from New York City who have played the point-guard position in college.
Both will have played against Ohio State defensive ace Aaron Craft at point guard in a span of a week.
Lyons should make it a goal that his similarities with the prolific scoring Jones end before the Wildcats and Buckeyes tip off Thursday night in Los Angeles. Craft locked down Jones — who provided locker-room material before the NCAA tournament matchup — to the tune of 3-for-14 shooting from the field (1 of 8 from three-point range) and only nine points in Iona’s 95-70 loss to the Buckeyes.
“I don’t feel like there’s anybody that can stop me,” Jones was quoted as saying by the New York Post before facing Craft. “That’s just how I go into every game. That’s no knock on what he does. I haven’t seen him. I don’t know the guy, just like he doesn’t know me.”
“I’m going to go out and play to the best of my ability. If he happens to be one of the best defensive players in the country, we’ll see. If not, we’ll see that, too.”
We saw Craft as one of the best defensive players in the country. Jones scored 13 points under his average.
Former Michigan State point guard Mateen Cleaves, who led the Spartans to the 2000 NCAA title, has plenty of knowledge about how a guard should perform in the NCAA tournament.
Cleaves, a radio personality with Sirius/XM’s College Sports Nation, talked Monday as if he was sitting before Lyons offering the Arizona guard some sage advice concerning the matchup with Craft.
“You have Aaron Craft, the best on-guard defender in the country, going against Mark Lyons, who is very hot,” Cleaves said. “In my opinion, for Mark Lyons, I wouldn’t make it a one-on-one battle. … I would pick my spots if I was Mark Lyons.
“You look at (Michigan’s) Trey Burke tried and it did not work. (Michigan State’s) Keith Appling tried it and it did not work. Andre Hollins, the really good guard from Minnesota, tried it. It did not work. So pick your spots. Use your screens. If (Craft) presses you, call your big guy over to set a screen and loosen (Craft) up a little bit.”
Then came Cleaves’ strongest point:
“You can not make it about you and him trying to show the college basketball world that you can score against him. If you do that … if that’s your mindset … then you’re going to be in trouble.”
Burke was 10-for-25 from the field in the two matchups with Craft. Appling was 13 for 36 in three matchups. Hollins was 4 of 13 in Minnesota’s only game against Ohio State. Combined, three of the Big Ten’s best guards shot a combined 27 of 74 (36.5 percent) against Craft this season.
“Part of what makes (Craft) such a special basketball player is who he is as a person,” said Arizona coach Sean Miller, who knows what it’s like to be a hard-nosed point guard. “He’s a 4.0 student, an incredible leader and as good of a competitor as you’ll find. He puts a lot of emphasis and plays hard on defense, but he’s also talented there.
“There are a lot of guys who play hard, but they’re limited. He has exceptional quickness and quick hands and he is strong. His anticipates really well. On offense, he runs the show. It’s not about scoring points for him it’s about being a point guard, and he is an extension of the coach. All of the things that you can say to give him incredible respect, that’s where I’m at.”
No bulletin-board material there. Arizona’s players are made available to the media today in Los Angeles. Miller would be wise to tell Lyons to not make the same mistakes Jones did with his comments before Iona’s loss to Ohio State. Lyons would be smart to take heed to Mateen Cleaves’ advice.
Much like Jones, Lyons has a tendency to try an ill-advised three-pointer instead of setting up Arizona’s half-court execution. They have a brazen style bent on showing that anything an opponent does, they can do better. UCLA’s Larry Drew II had the last laugh, for example, when Arizona lost at UCLA on March 2.
Drew and Lyons shared a tit for tat — smiling at each other after making a significant play. Although Lyons may have won some battles, Drew won the war in that game.
Lyons will play in his third Sweet 16 game. He lost his previous two with Xavier against Kansas State as a redshirt freshman in 2010 and against Baylor as a junior last season. Both were hard-fought five-point losses.
“I just want to get to that championship game, man,” Lyons said, his voice trailing off, after UCLA and Drew beat Arizona again in the Pac-12 tournament. “I want to see how that feels.”
Miller said he will count on Lyons and his experience to carry the Wildcats against Ohio State. Solomon Hill, Kevin Parrom and Jordin Mayes will also play in their second Sweet 16 game. They were part of the UA team that defeated Duke in this round two years ago in Anaheim.
“Think about the game we’re going to play on Thursday, (Lyons) has played in that game already two times,” Miller said. “That’s to our advantage, like their team where they have a number of guys who have been in this round, we do too. Maybe not to an extent of Ohio State, but we are depending on those experienced players to perform well.
“Mark will be a real key in this game.”
Site publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner