Hollie Ivey, Staff Sports Reporter
The Jacksonville State men’s basketball team (20-11, 11-7 OVC) took home a 66-57 win over Tennessee Tech in their final regular season game on Saturday, clinching the No. 4 seed in the upcoming Ohio Valley Conference Championship and earning its second consecutive 20-win season.
Former Head Coach Bill Jones was the last coach to lead the Gamecocks to back-to-back 20-win seasons in 1990-91 and 1991-92.
Senior Norbertas Giga added the first points to the board Saturday after a foul by TTU’s Mason Ramsey. After a 2 from junior Marlon Hunter, Tennessee Tech’s Shaq Calhoun tied the game 3-3 at the 16:25 mark.
A short range shot from Cunningham at 15:28 gave the Gamecocks back a lead that they would not relinquish for the remainder of the contest.
Maurice Dunlap earned the first 3-pointer for JSU with 4:21 remaining, and JSU led 26-19 at the half thanks to a 35.71% shooting average over TTU’s 24.14%.
Following a foul from Burnell, the Golden Eagles’ Courtney Alexander earned the first two points of the second half, but a layup by JSU’s Norbertas Giga would extend the Gamecock lead back to seven points.
TTU managed to pull within three points of Jacksonville’s lead at the 7:56 mark of the second half. The Gamecock’s defense reacted by preventing TTU from making any field goals for the next five minutes of play, but the Golden Eagles kept the deficit slim by converting on six free throws.
The Gamecock lead stayed under 10 for the remainder of the game, but an 8-2 Gamecock run after the 4:34 mark solidified their lead and pushed the team to their 66-57 victory.
Hunter was a strong presence in the game, bucketing 14 points as the night’s top scorer for JSU, followed by 12 from Jason Burnell and 11 from Giga. Junior Christian Cunningham, earning a double-double, registered 10 points and 13 rebounds.
For his performance in the game against TTU and his 21 points against Belmont on February 22, Hunter was named OVC Newcomer of the Week.
Jacksonville’s 20-7 bench points and 34-24 points-in-paint edge over Tennessee Tech helped boost the Gamecocks to the win, and JSU held a 38.3% shooting percentage over TTU’s 31.1% for the game.
The Gamecocks will face off against the winner of the first-round game between Tennessee Tech and SIUE on Thursday, March 1 at 6:30 p.m. in Evansville, Indiana.
JSU swept their two matchups against the Golden Eagles this season, but fell to SIUE 75-67 in their only contest.
A Gamecock victory in the quarterfinals would mean JSU would move on to face Murray State, the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, in the semifinals Friday night.