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Jones excited for tournament opportunity

Tuti Jones had plenty of experience with postseason basketball with the Charles Henderson Trojans. Now she will have the opportunity to experience the NCAA Tournament when the Belmont Bruins take on Gonzaga on Monday afternoon in Texas.

Jones won two state championships while a member of the Lady Trojans. After winning the Ohio Valley Conference, the Bruins earned the number 12 seed in the tournament, matching them up with the fifth seeded Bulldogs.

“This is very exciting,” Jones said. “I knew if I wanted to do exciting things like this that Belmont was the place to be. We worked really hard this year. We have had a lot of ups and downs with COVID. It’s very exciting and very rewarding that we were able to make it here.”

Jones and the Bruins enter the tournament with a 20-5 record. They entered the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament as the number two seed behind UT Martin. The Bruins defeated UT Martin 83-75 to claim the championship.

“I think it was consistency,” Jones said. “We had to come into practice every day and continue to make good choices. We had to come in ready to do the right thing every day. Off the floor we had to be consistent with COVID protocols just so we could even have an opportunity to play.”

Jones made an immediate impact for the Bruins during her freshman season. She started 21 total games and played in 22 as a freshman. She is third on the team averaging 9.5 points per game.

“I think I did ok,” Jones said. “There is a lot more I can do to get better. I’m still a freshman, and there are a lot of things I need to improve on, which is fine. I just try to help my teammates as much as I can.”

Jones’ 68 steals ranks first on the team and 11th in the country. Her 3.1 steals per game in conference play led the Ohio Valley Conference.

“Defense has always been my thing,” Jones said. “Everybody has their job on this team. I think after a while coach started expecting me to be a defensive player. I just try to do whatever I can for my teammates. Any way I can contribute I try to do that. I work best playing defense.”

Jones can always be counted on to provide the energy for her teammates.

“I have some amazing teammates,” Jones said. “They do their jobs really well. Sometimes all they need me to do is be hype or yell and scream. Just be that energy factor.”

Although the competition will be at a different level on Monday, Jones has plenty of playoff experience during her time with the Trojans.

“It’s a lot different on the college level,” Jones said. “I think I’m going to go in with the right mindset knowing that it’s one loss and you’re out. I’m going to go in with the right mindset, be confident and help my teammates as much as I can.”

Jones and the Bruins will take on the Bulldogs on Monday beginning at 3 p.m. The game can be seen on ESPN2.

“Gonzaga is an amazing team,” Jones said. “They are very balanced, well coached. We are just going to have to go in and play Belmont basketball. As long as we do what we do, we’ll be ok.”