Kyle Davie, Correspondent
The Gamecocks finished their regular season off with a big win on Saturday night that secured them a spot in the Ohio Valley Conference tournament for the fourth straight season with a 75-71 victory over Tennessee Tech.
The Gamecocks were in a must win situation. The winner of the game would take one of the last two remaining spots in the OVC tournament, while the loser would be eliminated from contention. Fortunately, the Gamecocks avenged a 1-point loss to Tennessee Tech from just two weeks earlier.
The night was filled with excitement even before the game started as it was Senior Night for the Gamecocks. Senior players and co-captains, Jacara Cross and Ty Hudson, and senior managers Kyle Davie and Brett Gaynor, were honored at mid-court right before the game.
Both seniors turned the pregame jubilation into in-game success as they came out very aggressive and productive in the first half. Cross scored 10 points and had a huge block in the first, while Hudson added nine points and an assist. The seniors finished their last JSU home game with solid efforts with Hudson tallying 16 points and three rebounds and Cross finishing with 15 points and two blocks.
The game was a nail-biter all the way through. The Gamecocks trailed by four at the half and there were 11 lead changes. The Gamecocks found themselves down again with only four minutes left, but freshman guard Marek Welsch hit the biggest shot of his young collegiate career, draining a three-pointer to give JSU a 69-67 lead.
The score was later tied 71-71 with only 36 seconds left to play. After a missed jump-shot, it looked as if the Golden Eagles would get a chance to take the lead, but a tough offensive rebound by Kayne Henry erased those worries and led the Gamecocks to the free throw line. Henry made both free throws and gave the Gamecocks a lead that they would hold for the rest of the night.
Henry had an especially good game Thursday night. In the final period, Henry scored 13 points and collected eight rebounds to give him a total of 19 points and 12 rebounds on the night. His efforts in this game and his 15-point, seven rebound performance on Thursday against Tennessee State led to him being selected as the OVC Newcomer of the week for the fourth time this season.
The Gamecocks claimed the seventh seed in the OVC tournament and are set to play the sixth-seeded EIU Panthers on Wednesday, March 4th at 8:30 p.m. The win took the Gamecocks to a 13-18 record on the season and 8-10 in conference play.
To win the tournament, the Gamecocks would have to do what they accomplished three seasons ago, where they won four games in four days on their way to a NCAA tournament berth. After EIU, the Gamecocks would move on to play No. 3 Austin Peay on Thursday at 8:30 p.m. and would then be set to play No. 2 Murray State.