Last week, EMU’s basketball men were the talk of the ODAC Tournament, overcoming deficits and earning upsets with dramatic, last-second clutch plays. Leading the way was senior point guard Maleke Jones (Charles Town, W.V./Washington).
Maleke scored 20 or more points in each of the men’s three games, and inspired a pair of upsets. Maleke hit the game-winning bucket with 7.7 seconds left in the 56-54 upset of top-seeded Randolph-Macon in the quarterfinals. In the two-point semifinal loss to Emory & Henry, he either scored or assisted on all eight of the men’s final points. And his three pointer with 8:59 left at Bridgewater earlier in the week gave the Runnin Royals a lead they would never relinquish.
In Eastern Mennonite’s three ODAC Tournament games, Maleke shot 52% (24-46 FGs), including 13-for 21 from three point range. He averaged 22.0 points, 5.3 rebounds and 2.7 assists during the run.
Having previous seasons derailed due to injuries, Maleke ended his senior season on a high note. Coach Kirby Dean is proud of Maleke’s play in the ODAC Tournament.
“If I had to pick one player, based on ODAC Tournament performance, to be the focal point of my team, I’d want Maleke over any player who played in Salem,” Coach Dean said. “There were a lot of great performances but if you want the guy who elevated his team the most and performed at the highest level, it’s got to be Maleke Jones. What you saw last weekend is the type player I always knew he could be if he ever stayed healthy enough long enough to realize just how talented he truly is. The success he had last weekend was well deserved, well earned, and couldn’t have happened to a better person than Maleke.”
Maleke’s personal reflections on the tournament are positive, and he enjoyed being able to share the experience with his younger teammates.
“The ODAC Tournament was great! I absolutely loved it! I love being in Salem, we (the senior class) haven’t been since our freshmen year and we at the very least wanted the underclassmen to get a taste of what it was like to be in Salem, so they would get that hunger to want to come back. Playing every game like it could be my last was fun. It was also scary and nerve wrecking all at the same time.”
Maleke had plenty of chances to experience that mix of emotions, as each of his three games last week could have been the final game of his career. However, Maleke found that even with the pressure of the tournament he was still able to play his best and enjoy every moment.
“These last three games went well, although the last one wasn’t how we planned it,” he said. “It felt like we were playing 5-on-8 because it seemed like the refs were against us a bit, but that’s nothing we aren’t used to. It was still fun and even though any of those three games could’ve been my last, I was still able to enjoy each and every second of it.”
Reflecting on the end of his career, Maleke is thankful that he made the choice to study and play at EMU. He also adds that the tournament in Salem was a freeing experience and that it was a great experience to end his career on.
“Coach Dean let us go when we got to Salem,” Maleke explained, “and it definitely felt like he let us play how we wanted to. It was a completely different feeling. These have been the best four years of basketball that I’ve ever experienced! So I just want to thank everyone who has helped me get and stay here!”