Mayes: Gamecocks didn’t win the OVC in 2019, but planted the seeds of respect

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JSU’s Jason Burnell walks off the floor for the final time as a Gamecock after falling to Murray State in the OVC Semifinals (Matt Reynolds/JSU)

Daniel Mayes, Editor-in-Chief

The 2018-19 Jacksonville State Men’s Basketball team didn’t win the OVC.

But so what?

Neither did Belmont. Belmont has been relevant on the national stage as a mid-major for years, and they haven’t won the conference now for five seasons.

So nationally relevant, in fact, that they just got into the big dance as an at-large team,
something that an OVC team hasn’t done since 1987.

So yeah, it’s bittersweet for the Gamecocks to be on the outside looking in.

To see a Belmont team that they swept in the regular season get to board a plane to go play on the big stage.

To see Murray State, who the Gamecocks beat by 20 in their only matchup in the regular
season, get to celebrate with a conference trophy after taking down JSU with a last-second shot in the OVC semis.

The fact of the matter is, there’s really no denying this season’s Gamecocks were the best
version to take the floor during JSU’s Division I history. There’s a reason the official Men’s
Basketball twitter account had to put out a thread last week detailing the program bests the Gamecocks set this year.

Stats like 24 overall wins. 15 conference wins. An 8-game win streak. Third place OVC finish, single-digit losses, a sellout of Pete Mathews Coliseum. All Program Division I bests or firsts.

It’s almost cruel for such a year for the Gamecocks to also coincide with one of the best years the OVC has ever had at the top of the league.

Nevertheless, the year that JSU just finished up is the type of year that is necessary for the Gamecocks to start getting that national respect that got Belmont into the tournament as an at-large.

Despite the never before seen successes that Ray Harper has brought to Jacksonville in his first three seasons, the Gamecocks are still such a new player on the national, heck, even the OVC, scene.

If Jacksonville State keeps this up, it will, slowly but surely, get that respect.

With six seniors from 2018-19 departing, Harper and the Gamecocks will face a new challenge of keeping this thing rolling. Keep proving that he’s made JSU a good program, not just a good team.

From what Harper’s accomplished in his short time in Jacksonville so far, who could doubt he’ll conquer this one just as easily.

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