Three quick keys for Jacksonville State’s success ahead of their matchup with Auburn

Photo courtesy of JSU Athletics

Thomas Ashworth, Sports Editor

Ahead of Jacksonville State’s NCAA Tournament matchup with the in-state Auburn Tigers, the Gamecocks will have a lot to do in order to pull off the upset over the SEC regular season champions. Here are three things to look out for in Jacksonville State’s matchup with the Tigers.

  1. Shooting from three.

Jacksonville State ranks fifth in Division I in team three-point shooting percentage. Demaree King ranks first Division I in individual three-point shooting percentage, with Darian Adams and Jalen Gibbs being efficient from three as well.

“At practice he’s [Bruce Pearl’s] been stressing it over and over again, just getting up close, close-outs, making sure we arrive on the catch, hands up, and try to not let them shoot the ball,”  Auburn guard Allen Flannigan said.

In Auburn’s loss to Texas A&M in the first round of the SEC Championship, Auburn struggled with three-point defense as Texas A&M shot 8-16 from three. 

If Jacksonville State is as efficient from three as they’ve shown throughout the season, Auburn could have their hands full.

  1. Jacksonville State’s duo of centers.

In Jacksonville State’s playoff win against Kennesaw State, Brandon Huffman scored 14 points to go along with nine rebounds. In that same game, Maros Zeliznak posted 14 points and seven rebounds for Jacksonville State.

While Jacksonville State’s three-point abilities have , they have two guys who have proven abilities under the basket. 

With a formidable duo consisting of Jabari Smith and Walker Kessler taking the court against this Jacksonville State team, the Gamecocks will be forced to play all across the court. This duo of guards will have to provide both rebounds and reliability under the basket in order for Jacksonville State to succeed against the SEC regular season champions.

  1. Coaching.

“Ray Harper has an advantage, he’s coached against me when he was at Kentucky Wesleyan, they know what we’re going to do,”  Bruce Pearl said in his press conference on Thursday.

Ray Harper is 13-3 against Bruce Pearl. In a rivalry that dates back to the late 1990’s, Bruce Pearl and Ray Harper coached against each other at least twice a year when Harper’s Kentucky Wesleyan took on Pearl’s Southern Indiana.

“I think it wouldn’t have mattered who popped up. We were going to be excited and knew we were going to have a huge challenge. Just so happened to be an in-state team and a guy I know well in Bruce from Auburn,”  Harper said in his press conference on Thursday.

Harper could be able to use this experience against Bruce Pearl to his advantage.

Now, Auburn is in the Southeastern Conference and Jacksonville State is in the Atlantic Sun Conference, as opposed to the two coaching in the same conference.

However, if Harper can provide some insight to the Gamecocks as to what Bruce Pearl brings to the table, it could give Jacksonville State a boost come tip-off.

“I can’t wait to see Bruce,”  Harper said. “I haven’t seen Bruce in a while. I got to see him on television. Now I get to see him up close and personal like in the old days. Then we get to see his lovely team. That will be a lot of fun.”

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