After most games, Jaylen Bond sinks both of his legs into a gatorade cooler filled with ice water while catching his breath in the locker room.
Suffering his first ankle sprain days before the season opener, the junior forward isn’t sure he’s felt 100 percent during the majority of games in his first eligible season with the Owls after transferring from Texas.
After finishing up a 15-rebound effort en route to the Owls’ 90-77 win against National Invitation Tournament foe George Washington University, the 6-foot-7 forward remembered the sadness he felt for the team’s seniors last Selection Sunday, and took homage in the fact that the group now has one more game at the Liacouras Center.
“I felt bad for my seniors since it was their last chance to make the tournament,” Bond said following the game. “I wasn’t really thinking personally about myself when we didn’t get in. I was just thinking about my teammates and how hard they’ve worked during the offseason.”
Bond added to his 15 rebounds with a total of eight points, three assists and a steal in 30-minutes of play. The day proved a marked improvement from his previous two games against Southern Methodist and Bucknell, respectively, when he averaged 17.5 minutes and five rebounds.
Bond’s minutes were also his highest total in nearly a month, when he tallied 33 minutes against Houston Feb. 26.
For Bond, the improvement came largely in part to some extra rest for his ailing ankles.
“[My ankles] definitely felt better going in today,” Bond said. “I felt like I could push off both my ankles a little bit better so I could get some easy rebounds. … [Extra rest] was big, just to give my ankles a couple days of rest was good for me. I feel like I’m getting back to where I need to be at to play 100 percent.”
Bond fell four rebounds shy of outrebounding the entire George Washington team at the half, and pitched in for nearly 40 percent of the team’s total rebounds in the game.
“He’s so terrific rebounding the ball,” Owls coach Fran Dunphy said. “He’s so quick to the ball, he’s got great hands. It’s nice to see that number posted on the boards for sure.”
Bond averages 8.2 rebounds per game for the Owls, in addition to 1.5 steals per game in his first season of eligibility after transferring from Texas, where he saw limited minutes.
The Owls, who went 9-22 last season, allowed 78.1 points per game while allowing opponents to 47 percent from the field. In the turnaround 25-10 season for the squad, the defensive effort has led to teams averaging 17 less points allowed through the year.
Dunphy, who said he needed Bond to be “a spectacular defensive player in order to be a good team” days before the beginning of the season, pointed to Bond’s defensive efforts as the major difference in the 17-point swing in statistics.
“Somebody asked me that again today, ‘What’s the change in our defense?’” Dunphy said Sunday afternoon. “He’s the reason why we are where we are numbers-wise I think from last year to this year.”
The Owls will now shift their focus toward Louisiana Tech, who beat No. 2-seed Texas A&M in an 84-72 second-round contest Monday at Reed Arena in College Station, Texas.
The Owls topped the Bulldogs 82-75 at the Liacouras Center on Nov. 17.
Since the win, the squad gained the services of senior transfer guard Jesse Morgan and junior transfer guard Devin Coleman, who combine for nearly 16 points per game for the squad.
“They have great scorers on the wing and some versatile bigs,” Bond said. “Against them we have to be smart and listen to our team concepts from our coach.”
EJ Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, 215.204. 9537 or on Twitter @ejsmitty17.