There were times earlier this season when Winthrop men's basketball coach Randy Peele was searching for more offense.
But now that it's the time of year his focus returns to what he knows best, he's back to where he started with Joab Jerome.
The sophomore small forward is back in the starting lineup, and if he keeps playing the way he did Thursday, he won't likely come out. Jerome is the Eagles' best perimeter defender, but he also tied a career high with 10 points and dished four assists in Winthrop's win over Liberty.
That effectively erased any doubt about what Peele was going to do moving forward.
"I really, really value him," Peele said of Jerome. "He's such a tough kid. He's a glue guy. To play the way we play, you've got to have at least one lock-down defender, a guy that can really stop the other team. Fortunately, we've got three, with Reggie Middleton and George Valentine. But Joey brings another dimension."
Jerome might be younger than the rest of the trusted stop-side players, but he's taking lessons well.
Valentine teased him about his interview skills Thursday, and made him wait until he finished to talk to reporters. But Jerome grinned and took it in stride, the same way he took coming off the bench the last 12 games after returning from a painful foot injury. He wasn't expecting to start against the Flames, not after his four point (all free throws), no rebound, no steal, no assist game at Charleston Southern last weekend.
"Coach told me at practice Wednesday and to be honest, I was shocked," Jerome said. "The way I played at Charleston, I wasn't expecting that. But we had a meeting, and he just told me to keep my head up and play the way he knew I could."
Against Liberty, that meant asserting himself on the offensive end as well.
Jerome hit the game-winning bucket with 1:59. When the shot clock hit nine seconds, Peele was yelling for him to take a 3-pointer, but he drove for a shorter attempt. That kind of mid-range versatility is needed, even though they generally expect their points from others. Knowing he can deliver adds an element.
"I knew the clock was running down," Jerome said. "When Reggie drove, I'm just glad he trusted me enough to take that shot. I didn't want to take the three, so luckily it went in."
Jerome's going to have to keep his pace up today against High Point. Even though the Panthers are struggling, the one thing they can do is score from the perimeter, and defending that's always going to be Jerome's specialty.
Peele talked at length after Thursday's win about Jerome's overall improvement, but getting the lanky wing player's shot to go down should keep him on the floor for the next month.
"It's crazy how much better he is than last year," Peele said of Jerome. "I'm a defense guy, so when in doubt, I'm going to go with the defensive guy.
"We need him to do what he does to make our team go."