Daniel Mayes, Staff Reporter
The 4-seed Jacksonville State Gamecocks shocked top seed Belmont 65-59 in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament Semifinal on Friday night to earn a spot in the OVC Finals against Tennessee Martin.
The Gamecocks now stand just one win away from an OVC Championship that would punch their ticket to the program’s first ever NCAA Tournament appearance.
“That is one heck of a basketball team we just beat… we just made plays. We wouldn’t be denied,” JSU Coach Ray Harper said after the game.
Jacksonville State’s dynamic duo at the two guard positions, Malcolm Drumwright and Greg Tucker, were the driving force behind the Gamecocks’ upset bid.
Drumwright finished the game with 21 points to lead all scorers, and Tucker added 18 and six assists and scored 11 of his points in the second half alone to carry the Gamecocks across the finish line victorious.
Gamecocks and Bruins traded baskets early on as the two squads tried to gain their footing in the game, but a 13-0 run from JSU, gave the Gamecocks a 31-20 lead with 2:32 remaining in the first.
Belmont, however, proved that a team that dominated the OVC during the regular season to the tune of a 15-1 conference record would not go away easily.
A Dylan Windler 3-pointer broke the Bruins long scoring drought, and then four points from two-time OVC Player of the Year Evan Bradds followed by a 3-point play from Taylor Barnette cut JSU’s halftime lead to just 31-30.
Drumwright was on fire in the first half for the Gamecocks, scoring 11 points on 5-5 shooting in the first frame, and Norbertas Giga added seven of his own.
Giga also played a huge role in the JSU triumph.
The junior finished 11 points and seven rebounds and also played lockdown defense on Belmont’s Bradds despite playing through most of the second half with three personal fouls.
A Belmont 3-pointer tied the game at 33-33 just over a minute into the second half, but a jumper from Giga at the 18:02 mark gave the Gamecocks a lead they would never relinquish.
Although the Bruins never overcame JSU’s lead, they were not easily dispatched.
The Gamecock lead remained a single-digit margin throughout the second half, never growing larger than nine.
Belmont cut the JSU edge to four late in the game, but Drumwright drained a dagger from downtown to make the score 62-55.
The Bruins again cut the lead down to three with just 0:45 remaining after a Bradds basket and a steal and dunk from Windler.
However, a game tying attempt from Barnette missed the mark, and, on the Bruins’ next possession, a steal from Drumwright followed by two huge free throws iced the game at 65-59.
“We left Jacksonville with one thing in mind,” Coach Harper said. “We didn’t come here to play one game; we came here on a mission.”
Jacksonville State can accomplish that mission, capturing an OVC Championship, Saturday night at 7 p.m. in Nashville, when JSU will battle 2-seed UT Martin in the OVC Tournament finals.
Check out highlights of the game and JSU’s postgame presser below: