TWIN FALLS — The College of Southern Idaho men’s basketball team reinstalled two key players into its rotation on Saturday, but the result hardly hinged on their presence.
Two of CSI’s best players, Charles Jones Jr. and Danya Kingsby, returned after serving two-game suspensions for failed drug tests. Both played well in a 105-89 Scenic West Athletic Conference win over USU Eastern Saturday night at CSI.
Jones Jr. and Kingsby are both headed to Division I programs (University of Utah for Jones Jr., University of Pittsburgh for Kingsby), and they’ve put up excellent numbers this season. Jones Jr. and Kingsby are No. 1 and No. 4, respectively, among Golden Eagles in points per games, they’re the team leaders in assists per game and they’re both shooting around 48 percent from the field and 42 percent from 3-point range.
But the Golden Eagles didn’t crumble without their two stars. In fact, they played some of their best basketball this season in that two-game stretch.
In the first game with Jones. Jr. and Kingsby out, CSI went to double overtime against Salt Lake CC, the eighth-ranked team in NJCAA Division I at the time. The Bruins beat the Golden Eagles 84-64 in Salt Lake City on Jan. 11, and CSI was at full strength that night (Jones. Jr. scored a game-high 22 points).
CSI displayed its depth in the double overtime loss on Feb. 1, a game that made head coach Jared Phay feel agony but also pride.
“That’s the only loss we’ve had all year that I was OK with because I felt like we played the right way,” Phay said. “We did everything to win it.”
Two days after that hard-fought defeat, CSI beat USU Eastern 88-73 to improve to 2-0 this season against the Eagles from Price, Utah.
Freshman forward Khalid Thomas was CSI’s leading scorers in both games without Jones. Jr. and Kingsby. He scored a game-high 28 points on efficient shooting and grabbed 11 rebounds against Salt Lake CC, and he poured in 20 points against USU Eastern last week.
“Salt Lake was coming in here thinking they were just gonna smack us,” Thomas said, “so I decided to step up my game and lock in.”
Thomas’ strong play continued on Saturday, when he scored a team-high 19 points (6-of-11 on field goals, 5-of-8 on 3s) and pulled down a game-high nine rebounds. The 6-foot-9 Thomas has mostly played power forward this season, but recently, Phay has put him at small forward, and he’s liked the results.
“He’s been really, really good there,” Phay said. “He shoots it well, he helps us rebound and we’re gonna leave him there.”
Thomas is second among Golden Eagles in points per game (15.8), field goal percentage (59.8 percent) and 3-point percentage (45.8 percent). He also leads the team in rebounds per game (6.7).
“I feel like I’m in a groove,” Thomas said. “I know myself, I know what I’m capable of and I’m just trying to do everything I can.”
Jones Jr. and Kingsby both came off the bench Saturday. Jones Jr. scored 14 points (4-of-9 shooting) in 22 minutes, and Kingsby had seven (3-of-6) in 10 minutes.
Jones Jr. also eclipsed 1,000 career points, becoming the second CSI men’s basketball player to hit the milestone. Fredrick Edmond (2013-15) scored 1,195 points in his CSI career.
Despite the impressive win, Phay still voiced some displeasure, but his complaints mostly stemmed from an easing of the foot off the gas pedal. CSI built a commanding lead early and never relinquished it.
At full strength, the Golden Eagles are hard to keep up with.
“We’re not letting anything fall through our fingers,” Thomas said. “We’re gonna do everything we can and give 100 percent effort every play.”
No. 14-ranked CSI (23-4, 7-2) travels to No. 6 Salt Lake CC on Thursday. The Golden Eagles are one game behind the Bruins in the SWAC standings with three regular season games remaining.