Daniel Mayes, Editor-in-Chief
JACKSONVILLE — After seizing control of the top spot in the Ohio Valley Conference with a win over Murray State on Thursday, the question for the Jacksonville State men’s basketball team was how long it would keep that position.
As Austin Peay assured thanks to its 74-71 win Saturday, the answer was: not long.
The Governors jumped out to a 23-4 lead while the Gamecocks looked like they still had their mind on celebrating their newfound lead in the conference. They rallied but couldn’t close it out.
“We’ve just got to come out ready,” 6-foot-3 senior guard Jamall Gregory said. “I know we dug ourselves out of that hole, but it just felt like we were playing catch-up. We caught up, but they finished it.”
After that early deficit, JSU (16-7, 8-2 OVC) finally woke up, but in a game that swung back and forth so many times it might make a see-saw blush, the Gamecocks couldn’t have been surprised when the last swing ended on the side of Austin Peay (16-7, 8-2).
That 23-4 lead for Austin Peay? Gone shortly after halftime. An eight-point Gamecock deficit with just over two minutes left? Replaced with a 71-70 lead with just 39 seconds left, the first one of the game for Jacksonville State.
There was still time on the clock though, enough for the see-saw to end where the game started — with an Austin Peay lead.
Jabari McGhee was wide-open under the basket on a Governors’ out-of-bounds play. Gregory desperately tried to hack McGhee, but it was to no avail. The basket was good, and the ensuing free throw made it 73-71. After a missed 3-pointer by Ty Hudson and another Austin Peay free throw, JSU was left to try a final full-court heave with two seconds left. It was deflected, and Jacksonville State’s fate was sealed.
Gregory finished with 19 points, seven rebounds, and four steals.
What to know
—The loss forces Jacksonville State back into a tie for first place after controlling the conference briefly after defeating Murray State on Thursday night. JSU, Belmont and Austin Peay are all 8-2, while Murray State was playing late to try to match that.
—Austin Peay’s Terry Taylor kept the pressure on the Gamecocks throughout the game, making play after play to make each JSU comeback more improbable. The sophomore scored 30 points and lead the Governors with six rebounds.
—After scoring just two points in the first half, Jason Burnell came alive in the frantic final minutes, finishing with 12 points and six rebounds. Marlon Hunter scored 17, and Hudson finished with 12.
—Jacksonville State Head Coach Ray Harper on the start to the game: “I thought we competed, we’ve just got to do a better job. We were just on our heels to start the game. We have to be better.”
—After the home loss, the Gamecocks hit the road for three in a row, beginning with a road contest Thursday at UT Martin, which sits in last place in the league. Jacksonville State will then travel to Southeast Missouri and Tennessee Tech before returning home to face Tennessee State on Feb. 16 in Pete Mathews Coliseum.