When Maryland women’s basketball forward Stephanie Jones first arrived in College Park for the 2016-17 season, she did so in the shadow of Brionna Jones, her All-American sister who was about to cap her career with a dominant senior campaign.
The elder Jones led the nation in shooting percentage for the second consecutive year, and after contributing a team-leading 19.9 points per game, she was selected eighth overall in the 2017 WNBA draft.
Stephanie Jones, meanwhile, spent the early stages of that campaign easing back into action after suffering a torn ACL during her senior season at Aberdeen High School. Her 4.1 points per game did little to make her stand out as more than Bri’s younger sister.
Two years later, Stephanie Jones has begun to shake the comparisons. With a career-high 13.0 points per game, the junior has assumed the role as the best scoring big on the No. 8 Terps’ frontline — following in her sister’s footsteps.
“Steph just continues to raise the bar for herself as well as for our team,” coach Brenda Frese said. “She’s a tremendous glue. She puts all the pieces together for us and keeps that consistency factor that we need.”
Jones’ improvement hasn’t come as a surprise to her teammates and coaches.
During her freshman campaign, Jones didn’t register a start on a team that went 32-3 before being upset by No. 10-seed Oregon in the Sweet 16. Still, she made the most of her limited playing time, shooting 60.2 percent from the field.
Last season, Jones upped her per-game average to 10.8 points on 58.8 percent shooting. This year, she’s hitting 57.6 percent from the floor.
“You know what you’re going to get from Steph,” guard Kaila Charles said. “You know you’re going to get effort, energy. She’s always consistent, she never quits.”
Jones’ consistency has become one of her defining features as a player. The junior has hit double figures in eight of the last 10 contests, and has scored at least 20 points three times in that span, after going her first two seasons without a single 20-point game in Big Ten play.
But where the junior has shown the most significant improvement is in her aggressiveness. The post player seemed passive at times early in her career, but she’s stepped up to become the go-to-scorer when needed during the 2018-19 campaign.
“I know that’s what my team needs from me,” Jones said. “Be aggressive and crash the boards.”
While Charles — the team’s leading scorer — struggled to the worst outing of her career during an 86-73 loss to No. 12 Iowa on Feb. 17, Jones stepped up and matched a season high with 21 points on 10-for-16 shooting.
“We know that Steph is going to bring her ‘A’ game,” Charles said.
Against Purdue on Monday, Jones picked up a pair of fouls in the first three minutes. And with the Terps’ frontcourt already thin — forward Brianna Fraser was ruled out with an ankle sprain — Frese didn’t play the junior again in the first half.
But after heading into the locker room with two points, Jones knew Maryland would need her to step up if it wanted to come back from a 29-23 halftime deficit. She answered the call, scoring 14 second-half points to help her squad win, 58-55, and earn a share of the Big Ten championship.
“Down in the Purdue game, she was out the first half in foul trouble,” guard Taylor Mikesell said. “She still came in and made an impact in the second half.”
Even when Jones didn’t get a chance to shine early in the matchup, she didn’t allow that to deter her — much like she didn’t allow her limited freshman-year minutes to affect her career in College Park. Now, as an upperclassman leader, Jones is flourishing.
“Every time I think about it I’m like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe this is my third year here,’” Jones said. “I just give whatever I can to help us win.”