Hayden Jones becomes the newest member of 1,000 point club in loss to St. Peter

Sean Ellertson
St. James Plaindealer

As St. James junior Hayden Jones walked up to the free-throw line midway through the second half against St. Peter, all eyes were on the star forward, who was on the verge of becoming the 10th player in St. James Area boys basketball history to crack the 1,000 point mark.

In a year without many positives for the 2-14 Saints, Jones provided a reason for the home crowd to go into a frenzy, despite the 69-49 final score on Monday night. 

It was a fitting 1,000th point for Jones—who lives at the charity stripe—and a nice added layer and connection with his brother, Parker, a 2019 St. James graduate. The elder Jones also sunk his 1,000th point from the line, at home, on the same hoop in an overtime victory over Luverne.

"It's just a cool thing for brothers to share," said head coach Spencer Monson. "It's fun for them too that they were able to experience Parker's together—Hayden as a player—and then tonight Parker even got to be here and experience it again."

From rising up the depth chart as a freshman—and becoming the highest-scoring freshman in Saints history—to becoming a near-guarantee for 20 points a night despite facing double and triple teams, Jones, as well as Monson, has seen his game blossom over the course of two and a half years.

"When he first started I didn't nearly think he would have the impact that he did as a freshman, so it was pretty neat to see how he did as a freshman," said Monson. "He's gotten better and better every year. He's become our go-to player. It's really fun to see how he's able to score despite being double and triple-teamed."

"It's hard when there's a big guy down low and there's a small guy on me face-guarding me but getting teammates open and them hitting shots helps a lot because then they can't do that," said Jones. "When they're shooting shots like Alex [Stresemann]—he's stepping up big time at the end of the year and it allows me to get in the lane more."

Monson anticipated that Jones would reach the milestone early in his senior year, but a burst of three 30 point games in a span of five games put Jones on pace to potentially reach 1,000 by the conclusion of the year. 

"Coming into the year I knew he had quite a way to go to get to 1,000," said Monson. "I just thought with the defenses he'd see this year that it would be very difficult to get there, if not near impossible, but he did it. He just finds new ways to adjust his game and become a better player.

"Every year I say it's going to be tough for him to get better but I'm not going to doubt him at all and I think he'll definitely solidify himself as one of the best players in the conference for sure."

Jones averaged 7.2 points per game as a freshman coming off the bench for a club that finished 18-9 and advanced all the way to the Section 3 Final before being upended by Redwood Valley. In that 2018-2019 run, Jones came alive down the stretch, becoming an interior force and flashing huge upside. 

Last year, Jones was part of a three-headed attack featuring Derrick Halvorson and Logan Carlson. Jones was second on the team to Carlson in scoring at 16.5 points a game but paced the Saints in rebounds (248 total, 9.5 per game), blocks (18/.69), and assists (86/3.3). Following the departures of Halvorson (graduation) and Carlson (transfer), Jones has stepped up as the clear #1 option for Monson. 

So far this season, Jones leads the Saints in points (391/24.4), assists (61/3.8), rebounds (121/7.5). Jones has also knocked down 21 threes at a 42% clip and is shooting 78.3% from the foul line on 138 attempts (8.6 attempts a game). 

Jones started the night with 984 points, and, after a first-half where he managed just six points, Jones showed no signs of pressing as the Saints aimed to claw back from a 27-21 halftime deficit.

"I thought we were getting some good looks, we just have to finish them," said Monson. "We didn't shoot extremely well tonight but give St. Peter some credit, they're strong and physical and they made everything we got tough."

Jones scored six quick points to open the second half, but seven points by Ethan Grant and a three from Josh Robb extended the lead to 37-27.

A Jones triple made it a single-digit game and put him within a single-digit of the milestone.

With 11:37 left in the half, Jones approached the line, setting the stage for an eruption from the home supporters.

"I didn't really think of it, I was just trying to win the game," said Jones. "I don't really get nervous a lot. It feels good, my whole family is here and it's great to have that support."

As Jones sank the first end of a pair of free throws, fans of both Saints clubs gave him a standing ovation.

"It means a lot and it shows that hard work pays off," said Jones. "I've just been developing every skill—I've turned into a ball-handler and a shooter. Freshman year I was just playing down low, I'd work off Parker and now I'm basically the point guard."

The pair of free throws cut St. Peter back to nine, but the Saints kept coming, and quickly expanded their lead to up to 23 to put an end to any upset bid.

Jones finished with a game-high 23. Stresemann, who was held to just three points on Friday against Pipestone, finished with 18 on the strength of six triples.

Grant finished with 18 of his own to pace St. Peter.

Even with the Saints on a six-game skid, Jones remained optimistic that the Saints can pull off an upset or two in the Section 3AA South tournament, where the Saints could find themselves matched up against Pipestone, who knocked off the Saints on Friday 63-49 and currently sit at 7-9.

St. James closes out its regular season on Thursday against #2 Waseca (14-1). Waseca's lone loss on the season was at the hands of national power Minnehaha, 94-66, on March 2nd.