Daniel Mayes, Editor-in-Chief
JACKSONVILLE — “We’re not going to have a letdown. We’ll be ready to go Saturday,” Jacksonville State coach Ray Harper said after Thursday’s overtime victory over Belmont. “They know this one doesn’t mean anything if we don’t take care of business on Saturday.”
On Saturday night, they did just that, defeating Tennessee Tech 65-48.
After an emotional overtime win just two days before, no one would have blamed JSU for getting off to a slow start against a Golden Eagle team that came into the game with just a 6-12 record. The Gamecocks came out focused, however, jumping out to a hot start and outpacing Tech for their sixth straight win to start conference play and their seventh straight win overall.
Jacksonville State showed no signs of rust, shooting 62 percent in the first half and sprinting to a 34-21 lead at the break.
The Gamecocks quickly built up a 20-point lead in the second half, but a cold streak let Tennessee Tech cut it to within six.
A Jamall Gregory thunderous posterization dunk of a Tennessee Tech defender changed momentum back in JSU’s favor with 5:12 to go, energizing a 14-3 finish for the Gamecocks that put the game back out of reach again.
What to know
—The win gives JSU a 6-0 start in OVC, matching the best start to conference play since moving to Division I. Mark Turgeon led the Gamecocks to a 6-0 start in Atlantic Sun games in 1999-00. Jacksonville State also matched its longest win streak in Division I with seven. The Gamecocks can set two new program bests in both with a win against EKU next time out.
—Jason Burnell, the Gamecocks’ leading scorer, struggled from the floor, hitting just 3 of 11 shots, but he made all eight of his free throws, finishing with 14 points and 14 rebounds. Ty Hudson tied for the scoring lead with 14 of his own.
—Christian Cunningham, who has been limited in the scoring column since returning from a back injury, scored all eight of his points in the first half Saturday, including three dunks. He’d scored no more than two points in his previous four games played.
—Gregory on his energizing dunk in the second half: “I gave it up to Ty (Hudson), and I just saw the open floor and kept running and hoped he saw me. He threw it, and I just took off and put it through the rim. I always look for a way to energize my team. If it’s a dunk, steal, a charge, anything. I’m the guy to do it.”
—Harper on the win: “We played in spurts. We got up 20 and just relaxed and didn’t put it away like we needed to and should have. I thought Ty Hudson made big play after big play down the stretch.”
—The Gamecocks hit the road to Kentucky, where they’ll try to keep their win streak alive against Eastern Kentucky on Thursday and Morehead State the following Saturday. JSU will return home to Pete Mathews to play Murray State and top-5 projected NBA draft pick Ja Morant on Jan. 31.