Stephen Duke, Correspondent
It was an up and down weekend for Jacksonville State University men’s basketball team, splitting games against Belmont and Tennessee State.
In Thursday’s contest against the Belmont Bruins, the Gamecocks led for a majority of the game until a 10-0 run put the one-loss Bruins on top, ending any chance the Gamecocks had off pulling off the upset.
The Gamecocks led at 27-22 at the half as a result of Belmont failing to hit a three-point shot, as well as poor shooting by the Bruins (just 27% of their shots connecting). Darian Adams contributed 12 points in the first half.
Things seemed to be pointing toward JSU pulling off an upset against the Bruins, undefeated in conference play (24-1, 18-0 OVC following the weekend). That is, until the final five minutes of the game.
The Bruin’s took a 54-53 lead after Grayson Murphy hit a three-point shot and Caleb Hollander made a layup off a fast break opportunity. This was the first lead of the night for the Bruins.
Adams, who had 24 points for the game, made a three with about seven seconds to play, putting the Gamecocks within two and needing a steal and a shot to either tie and send the game to overtime or win the game outright with a three.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. A pair of free throws by Luke Smith sealed the game, giving the Bruins a 63-59 win.
Adams was the lone-scorer in double figures in the game. His 24 points were a career-high for him. In addition, he had eight rebounds in the contest. Jalen Finch also contributed nine points.
Saturday’s game had a different result. The Gamecocks sweated out a 77-76 win over the Tennessee State Tigers in Nashville, Tenn.
The Tigers led 39-30 at the half, in large part due to the Tigers making six 3-pointers. The Tigers also hit more shots (60%) than JSU (43.5%) in the first half.
The Tigers led by as much as 10 with under six minutes to play in the game, but the fight in the Gamecocks proved to be much stronger.
They slowly began cutting into the lead, with Jalen Finch hitting a 3-point shot with about two to play, making the score 73-70. Adams tied the game with about 23 seconds left, and Jay Pal put the Gamecocks in front 75-73.
Tennessee State then tied the game with about five seconds left on the clock, but Finch hit a layup with less than a second left on the clock to pull off the 77-76 win. The last second shot was the first to seal a game since Malcom Drumwright’s against USC Upstate in December 2016.
With the win, Coach Ray Harper tied with former JSU Coach Mike LaPlante with 95 Division I wins in program history. He can surpass that mark this weekend with wins against Murray State and Austin Peay.
The Gamecocks take on the Racers of Murray State Thursday night at 7:30 p.m. and welcome the Governors to town Saturday at 4 p.m. Both games will be streamed live on ESPN+ and broadcast on WLJS 91.9 FM.