Sadie Appleton, Correspondent
Coming off a loss at home in Pete Mathews Coliseum last week against Austin Peay, the Jacksonville State University women’s basketball team looked to improve on their previous performance. The team hit the road to face off against two teams in Illinois: Eastern Illinois and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
Beginning their tour through Illinois, Jax State made their initial stop in Charleston to face off against the Panthers of Eastern Illinois. From the start of the tip off, the Gamecocks faced tough competition against EIU. While they were outscored 9-14 in the first quarter, JSU found help offensively from redshirt junior McKenna Lawrence.
In her first career start for the Gamecocks, Lawrence set a new personal best in points just in the beginning 20 minutes of the game. Her consecutive three-point baskets gave JSU the boost they needed when down. She snapped a long scoring drought to give Jacksonville State its first lead at 21-19 following her back-to-back threes. EIU bounced back, however, with a 7-0 run to make the score 26-21 going into half-time.
Working hard on the floor in the third quarter, Jax State slowly trimmed down the deficit, evening the score at 30-30, but like in the previous half, the Panthers responded by making another scoring run and putting up another lead against the Gamecocks that left an eight-point margin between the two teams.
JSU remained behind in the fourth but a three-point shot by Destiney Elliott cut the score to 55-44. It would be JSU’s last shot at retaking the lead. Final three point shots in the final minutes brought the Gamecocks within three points, but a missed free throw left them without enough time for a final shot, leaving the final score at a close 52-55.
Despite the loss, JSU set a new program record for three-point attempts at 45, breaking the previous record of 39 attempts set in 2005 against Murray State. Previously mentioned McKenna Lawrence had a memorable performance beyond the perimeter. All five of her buckets came from beyond the arc for almost half of the Gamecocks’ 11 threes.
Freshman Nekiyah Thompson matched her career high of 11 points with help from a pair of threes, as did Elliott who put up ten points and was the third Gamecock of the night to put up double digits. While Thompson, Lawrence, and Elliott all put up impressive performances that carried the JSU offense, as a whole, Jax State struggled to keep up with EIU, only shooting at an average of 27-percent.
Jacksonville State, looking to rebound from their loss, moved on to their match up against Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. The result of the meeting improved JSU’s record to 7-10 as they defeated the Cougars 53-44, dropping their overall to 3-14. This would be the second-straight year that JSU defeated SIUE since the two began meeting in 2011.
JSU came off the opening buzzer with an early lead and eventually led at 9-6. Back-to-back three-point buckets from Hawks and Elliott widened the lead to 15-10 within the final two minutes of the opening period.
The Gamecocks’ lead widened to nine following a put-back by Karleigh Sledge, making the score 21-12. However, a small scoring run by the Cougars minimized JSU’s cushion to four halfway into the second period. The Jax State defense held SIUE scoreless in the remaining minutes of the half, assisting the Gamecocks to take their 30-18 lead going into halftime.
Coming out of the intermission, the Jacksonville State defense upheld its strong performance to help increase the lead to 15. Not to be totally defeated, the Cougars brought the scoring gap down to five in the final quarter at 44-39. However, SIUE’s scoring momentum was stalled after Elliot put down a confidence boosting three for Jax State. A steal and layup from Lawrence late in the fourth increased the lead to double digits and sealed the game for JSU at 53-44.
Defense paved the way for the win on this day as junior Taylor Hawks had a career-high of nine rebounds, followed by seven from redshirt-junior Jessie Day. The defensive front held to single-digit points in two quarters, 1-for-13 in three-point attempts, and just 28 percent shooting overall. Destiny Elliott led the team offensively with 11 points followed by Nekiyah Thompson with 10, her second straight game with double-digit points.
The Jacksonville State women’s basketball team will face off against Eastern Kentucky on Thursday, January 23 on their home court at the Pete Mathews Coliseum. Tip-off will begin at 5:15 p.m. Fans who can’t attend can still catch the action by streaming the game on ESPN+.