Daniel Mayes, Sports Editor
It’s not over yet.
The Jacksonville State Men’s Basketball team extended its season yet again with an 80-78 overtime victory in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational Tournament Wednesday over Canisius.
It took overtime and overcoming a near-miracle shot from the Golden Griffins, but the CBI victory is the first win in a national postseason tournament for the Gamecocks in the Division I era and pushes JSU’s record win total to 22 on the year.
The story of the game was the Gamecock seniors making the most of another chance to take the court.
Malcolm Drumwright put up 20 points, eight rebounds and six assists in his return to the court after being limited to just three points in the Gamecocks’ 70-63 loss to Murray State in the OVC semifinals. Norbertas Giga scored four in the opening 90 seconds of the game and didn’t look back, tallying a double-double with 17 points and 11 rebounds.
After the Giga-fueled quick Gamecock start, which left JSU with a 7-2 lead, Canisius would respond with a 5-0 run to tie it.
The two teams traded baskets—and the lead—throughout the first half before JSU would seize an advantage that would grow as high as five then settle at four at the break, 37-33.
In the second half, Giga scored 11 of his points to pace the Gamecocks and Ashton Spears joined the fray with six key points late down the stretch.
JSU put themselves in a position to win Wednesday by knocking down their free throws.
The Gamecocks hit just 3-20 from behind the arc against the Griffs, but converted on 23 of their 26 attempts from behind the stripe, pushing the lead up when the Gamecocks needed it.
However, a key miss from the free throw line from Spears with 28 seconds remaining left the door open for Canisius.
The Gamecocks needed every one of Giga’s four straight made free throws with 16 and then just seven ticks remaining on the clock, which put the Gamecock lead at three.
Canisius’s Isaiah Reese banked in a desperate three-point attempt as time expired to send the contest to overtime and give the Gamecocks some more free basketball in their second season.
The Griffs earned the first four points in the extra time, but the Gamecocks battled to tie it back up thanks to yet more successful free throws from Drumwright and Jason Burnell.
With 34 seconds left and the Gamecocks down 78-77, Marlon Hunter grabbed the offensive board off of a Giga miss and laid home the putback to give JSU the lead, a bucket which would go on to become the game-winner.
Burnell added a free throw to put the lead at 80-77, then suffocating defense on Canisius’ final possession forced another desperate three-point attempt at the buzzer, but this one fell harmlessly out of bounds without grazing the rim.
The Gamecocks move on to the quarterfinal round of the CBI, where they will take on Central Arkansas, who themselves needed OT to advance, defeating Seattle 90-88 in the first round.
JSU will travel to Conway, Arkansas Monday March 19 to take on the Bears of UCA.