Daniel Mayes, Sports Editor
For the Jacksonville State men’s basketball team, things just keep getting better in year two under Coach Ray Harper.
After a run to an OVC Championship and the school’s first NCAA Tournament berth in his first season in Jacksonville, Harper set expectations high for the basketball program coming into the 2017-18 season.
So far, the Gamecocks have delivered.
Currently sporting a 15-6 overall record and a 6-2 mark in Ohio Valley Conference play, this JSU squad is proving that last year’s tournament success was no fluke.
It’s been a season of firsts so far for JSU.
On Jan. 6, the Gamecocks took down perennial OVC power Belmont in the Curb Event Center, Belmont’s home court, for the first time since the Bruins joined the OVC.
On Jan. 20, Jacksonville State defeated Eastern Kentucky on the road for the first time, having gone 0-13 previously.
The Gamecocks also beat Murray State for just the second time in program history on Jan. 11, bringing their record against the Racers to 2-20. J
SU boasts a much better record at home in 2017-18 than in the previous year, as the Gamecocks are already 9-2. The Gamecocks managed just five wins in 10 home contests last season in a road heavy schedule.
This 2017-18 squad has fit into the mold that has quickly become a hallmark of Ray Harper’s Jacksonville State units— unselfish teams that play defense.
The Gamecocks rank 28th in the entire NCAA in scoring defense, giving up just 64.9 points per game.
Anchoring the middle of the defense is Christian Cunningham, who patrols the paint for the Gamecocks, blocking 2.05 shots per game.
2017-18 newcomers Marlon Hunter and Jamall Gregory are lockdown defenders on the perimeter, helping to shut down opposing guards, creating turnovers and easy scoring chance for JSU.
Helping turn that stifling defensive effort into wins is a balanced scoring threat lead by Senior stalwart guard Malcolm Drumwright.
Drumwright is the steadying, calming force for this basketball team. Harper looks to him to get a bucket when the Gamecocks need an important bucket, and the Rancho Cucamonga, California native usually delivers.
Outside of Drumwrights 14.0 points per game, five other Gamecocks are scoring between 7-12 per game, from Cunningham’s 7.6 up to Jason Burnell’s 11.4.
Burnell, another newcomer for the 2017-18 season, has been a huge addition to this JSU squad.
The 6’7” versatile forward has been a nightmare for opposing defenses with his ability to play both forward positions, and he’s developed into JSU’s top three-point threat, nailing 41.2% of his attempts from behind the arc this season.
Heading into the last third of the season, the Jacksonville State Gamecocks are sporting a great record and tons of confidence, and now they gear up for a run at the tournament once again.