Indiana got the worst possible news Friday on senior guard Verdell Jones: He tore the ACL in his right knee and will miss the rest of the season.
The team announced the news just hours before its Big Ten tournament quarterfinal game against No. 14 Wisconsin. Coach Tom Crean said an MRI on Thursday night revealed the extent of the injury and called it heartbreaking news.
Jones was injured on a play with 5:45 to go in the first half of Thursday’s victory over Penn State. He crashed to floor, screaming and clutching his right knee and was eventually carried to the locker room by two of his teammates.
It’s an excruciatingly painful loss.
”We’ll be missing a lot of leadership. I mean he’s been through it all. He’s been here with me and the other seniors. He’s a great leader, great composure on the court, especially when we’re in tight situations,” guard Matt Roth said Thursday. ”But we’ve matured a lot as a team and everybody’s at that point now where there’s no class to what you are. We’re a basketball team and it’s next man up.”
Crean didn’t give much indication about how he would divvy up the minutes during the rest of the season, but acknowledged the Hoosiers will have to make some adjustments and players such as Remy Abell and Daniel Moore may see more playing time.
The Champaign, Ill., native has started 103 games for Indiana, averaging 11.5 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.3 assists and scored 1,347 career points.
Over that four-year career, the Hoosiers have faced the lowest of lows — three straight losing seasons including a dismal 6-25 in Jones’ freshman year.
But this was a different kind of season.
Indiana (25-7) was on the cusp of its highest victory total since 1992-93. The Hoosiers have already finished the perfect non-conference season since 1989-90 and beat three top-five teams during the regular season for the first time since records were kept in 1948-49.
And Jones had a big hand in the turnaround.
He made the pass to Christian Watford for the buzzer-beating shot that beat No. 1 Kentucky in December, and he scored 14 points in the Hoosiers’ upset of No. 2 Ohio State three weeks later.
Jones also missed two games with a bruised shoulder, an injury that forced him to play with a black brace and relegated him to coming off the bench recently.
Now the Hoosiers must find a way to move on without one of their leaders.
”Everyone’s just got to play a little harder, a little better,” sophomore swingman Will Sheehey said Thursday. ”It’s going to be tough, but it’s something we can do. Verdell is obviously an excellent player and it hurts but we’ll have other guys that can come up.”