Tag: Basketball

‘Focused’ Gamecocks blow out TSU

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JSU Athletics

Daniel Mayes , Editor-in-Chief


JACKSONVILLE — Because of a crowded top of the OVC, every game carries major seeding implications for the Jacksonville State men’s basketball team these days.

And the Gamecocks played like they had that in mind Saturday night in an 84-65 win over Tennessee State.

Against a Tigers team from the bottom half of the standings, JSU came out with a smothering intensity on both ends of the floor, sprinting out to a double-digit lead before Tennessee State reached double-digits themselves.

“The past two weeks, after the UT Martin loss, We’ve had a different focus in practice and in warmups. Our focus has been better,” senior forward Jason Burnell said. “The three games we’ve lost have been due to lack of focus and we didn’t get off to a great start, but lately we’ve been playing good defensively early and getting back to our identity.”

Jacksonville State (19-8, 11-3 OVC) is tied for third in the league standings with Austin Peay. Belmont and Murray State are tied for first as both have 12-2 OVC records.

Against Tennessee State, the Gamecocks got off to a great start and played good defensively as they raced to a 37-20 halftime lead, which was punctuated by a Jamall Gregory dunk off an alley-oop pass.

The Gamecocks kept cruising through the second half.

Burnell had a big night, even outscoring Tennessee State (8-18, 5-9) by himself 13-12 at one point late in the first half. The senior leader for the Gamecocks finished with 30 points, tying his career-high mark set against Belmont in January.

What to know

—After struggling to hit 3-pointers in recent games, the Gamecocks came alive from behind the arc Saturday night. JSU knocked down seven of their 17 shots from 3-point range to give its offense a boost.

—Gregory helped Burnell propel the Gamecocks’ offense, scoring 13. Christian Cunningham finished with a near-double-double with seven points and nine rebounds.

—Stokely Chaffee Jr. led Tennessee State with 17 points, while Tripp Davis and Kamar McKnight both scored 12.

Who said

—Harper on the win: “Our focus is the same as it always is. Just be focused and get better each day. I thought we did that all week as a team. We prepared the right way.”

—Harper on Burnell: “He’s really good when he’s locked in and playing at that level like he has been the past couple games. We’ve got to continue to have guys like that step up.”

—Burnell on his career-high tying performance: “I felt like I had the hot hand, and my teammates did a great job of getting me the ball and making shots to take the attention off of me.

Next up

—The Gamecocks will play the second of three straight home games Thursday night as Jacksonville State hosts Morehead State. The Gamecocks will finish their home slate for the season the following Saturday against Eastern Kentucky.

Hawks beats the buzzer and Tennessee State

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(JSU Athletics)

Daniel Mayes, Editor-in-Chief


JACKSONVILLE — Rarely does a basketball game give you one buzzer-beater, but the Jacksonville State women used two of them to win 76-73 over Tennessee State in overtime Saturday.

After Destiney Elliott hit a layup with just 0.3 on the clock in regulation to take the game to overtime, Taylor Hawks pulled up from about 35 feet to drill a game winner as the buzzer sounded in the extra period.

“It’s a big-time shot,” JSU coach Rick Pietri of Hawks’ buzzer-beater. “They pressed us with 5.9 to go, and it forced us to make a long-range heave, and it was just a big-time shot. When you’re trying to get wins this late in the season, you need players to make big plays for you.”

Hawks, who missed two free throws at the end of regulation that would have tied it, took advantage of Elliott’s late-game heroics to get a chance at redemption. This time she cashed in.

“Missing both of those was big, because if she had made even one, it changes everything,” Pietri said. “She’ll sleep a whole lot easier tonight finishing with that memory instead of the other memory.”

Hawks’ impact wasn’t just felt at the buzzer. The sophomore point guard scored 10 of her 20 total points in the overtime period. Bookending the period with a three to start off JSU’s scoring.

The game-winning shot might be the turning point for a Gamecock season on the brink.

Jacksonville State came into the game at ninth in the standings in a conference that only takes eight teams to its postseason tournament. The Gamecocks are now tied with SIUE and Murray State for the seventh spot, with a game against SIUE still on the schedule for JSU.

What to know

—Elliott, like Hawks, made her impact on the game well before her late heroics. The senior scored just three points in the first half, but came alive for eight points in the third quarter to save a struggling Gamecock offense. Elliott finished with 17 points and tied with Rayven Pearson with five rebounds to lead JSU.

—With the win, the Gamecocks secured their fifth straight victory over Tennessee State. They defeated the Tigers 62-52 on the road earlier this season. The last time TSU beat Pietri’s JSU squad was Jan. 21, 2017, when the Gamecocks fell 64-51 on the road.

—Taylor Roberts had a big night for Tennessee State, keeping pressure on JSU as they made their comeback. Roberts hit five of her six shots in the first half on her way to a game-high 27 points, including the free throws that tied the game before Hawks’ game-winner.

Who said

—Pietri on the win: “At this stage of the season, every game you play is enormous. Winning a game like that is huge in terms of catching up to the teams that are ahead of us. You can’t catch them if you don’t win.”

—Pietri on the Hawks shot: “The thing about that kind of a play, is you don’t forget that for the rest of your life. That’s a memory that we’ll have forever. I’m glad for us we got to experience the positive end of that.”

Next up

—The Gamecocks continue a three-game home stand Thursday at 5:15 p.m., as Jacksonville State will play Morehead State. JSU will conclude its home schedule for 2018-19 next Saturday when the Gamecocks host Eastern Kentucky on Senior Day.

Gamecock Guide 2018: A golden age of JSU Athletics

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Jamall Gregory dunks during the OVC Basketball Tournament (Matt Reynolds/JSU)

Daniel Mayes, Editor-in-Chief


When JSU’s freshman class of 2022 arrives on campus this fall, it will be doing so during one of the most successful periods for Gamecock athletics.

Jacksonville State’s sports teams compete at the highest level of collegiate sports, NCAA’s Division I, with the football team competing in the Football Championship Subdivision of Division I.

Football is perhaps the king of all sports in the southeast, and that’s no different at Jacksonville State.

While Alabama and Auburn are busy laying claim to the SEC at the NCAA’s highest level, JSU has carved out its own sector of dominance in the FCS.

JSU won its only national championship in football in 1992 at the Division II level, but since bumping up to Division I, the Gamecocks have brought the programs to new heights under John Grass.

The Gamecocks come into 2018 in the midst of arguably the most successful stretches in program history. JSU is the winner of four-straight Ohio Valley Conference victories and hold the nation’s longest active Division I win streak for conference victories, having won a league-record 32 straight OVC contests. In 2015, the Gamecocks made a run all the way to the National Championship game behind quarterback Eli Jenkins, eventually falling 37-10 to current NFL star Carson Wentz and North Dakota State.

The Gamecocks don’t show any signs of being ready to lose their dominant form yet, and will enter 2018 as favorites to win the OVC yet again. A solid returning core combined with newcomers such as former Clemson quarterback Zerrick Cooper and Auburn’s Tre Threat look to help keep JSU on track and lead the Gamecocks back to another title.

Football is not the only program at JSU in the middle of one of the best stretches in program history.

Led by coach Jana McGinnis, the Gamecock softball team has taken home at least a share of the OVC crown in nine of the last eleven seasons. JSU finished out 2018 with yet another title and an impressive run to the Tallahassee regional finals, eliminating perennial SEC power Auburn before bowing out to host Florida State.

JSU’s baseball program, which also won national titles at the Division II level, taking home the big trophy in both 1990 and 1991, has seen some success in recent years under coach Jim Case.

The Gamecocks are scheduled to finally move back into Rudy Abbott Field, which has been undergoing renovations for the last two seasons, for the 2019 slate.

JSU’s basketball teams are also on the rise after years struggling to adjust to competition at the Division I level.

Ray Harper is the head man for the Gamecock men’s program, and he made an immediate impact on JSU after setting foot on campus in Jacksonville. Harper led the turnaround from what was an 8-23 finish in 2015-16 to a 20-15 mark in his first season, and the Gamecocks took home the school’s first ever OVC title and appearance in the Big Dance itself, March Madness, the NCAA Tournament.

After another great season last year, in which the Gamecocks finished with a Division I school-record 23-13 mark and made it to the semifinal rounds of both the OVC and the College Basketball Invitational Tournaments, Harper has JSU basketball formed into a winning environment that looks to compete for the conference crown for years to come.

The JSU Women’s basketball program, led by coach Rick Pietri, also has enjoyed some success in recent years. Last season the Gamecocks joined the men in the OVC tourney semifinals, bowing out to eventual champ and nationally ranked Belmont to finish a great turnaround season.

JSU’s other sporting teams, such as volleyball, soccer, tennis, golf, cross country and rifle, field competitive teams year in and year out, and the Gamecocks newest program, beach volleyball, is already gaining ground quickly after just two seasons of play.

Overall, there’s never been a better time to be a Gamecock.

Strain deserves credit for basketball expectations

By Chris Allen Brown/Associate Editor

Leah Strain didn’t have to continue playing basketball following her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear during the summer before the 2015 season.  

Strain, one of the most prolific prep basketball players in Alabama history, could’ve hung up her shoes and ankle braces to focused all of her time on being a nurse or member of the Alpha Omicron Pi sorority. 

She could’ve said that’s it, I’m done. 

But she didn’t. She continued to fight. 

Strain fought out of the shadows of her older sister, Courtney, who owns the state mark for career points. 

Strain fought the expectations of being an incoming freshman after helping Woodland High to its second consecutive state championship. 

Strain fought the lengthy rehab that came with the torn knee ligament.

Strain fought to be see time of the floor for JSU head coach Rick Pietri. 

Strain fought to be Leah Strain. She wasn’t going to give up and let people define her legacy. She took it upon herself to do that. 

When Strain throws on the red-and-white No. 2 Jacksonville State uniform over her 5-foot-4 frame Wednesday night against Belmont, it’ll be the 82nd game of her Gamecock career. It was a collegiate career that saw her score her first points during Jacksonville State’s upset win against SEC foe Alabama on Nov. 18, 2014. 

During the 2014-15 season, Strain set a career high in points with a 14-point outing against Mercer. Against the Bears, she went 5 of 10 from the field, including three 3-point baskets, and dished out six assists. For her performance, Strain was named the Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Week. 

Off the court, Strain earned 2014-15 OVC Medal of Honor and OVC Commissioner’s Honor Roll status after finishing the academic year with a 4.0 grade point average.

After redshirting during the 2015-16 season to rehab her ACL injury, Strain returned for the 2016-17 year. 

She scored 10 points on 4-of-5 shooting against Brewton-Parker, before turning in a season-high 11 points in 18 minutes against Nicholls State. She also scored nine points in 10 minutes in the final game of the season. 

As a redshirt-junior this season, Strain has played 373 minutes and scored at least one point in 22 of 27 games heading into JSU’s home finale against the Bruins. 

Strain will be remembered more for her resiliency than scoring while at JSU.

Brown: Drumwright is the leader the Gamecocks needed

By Chris Allen Brown/Associate Editor

Malcolm Drumwright has been through it all during the last four years.

At a school, not only 2,000 miles away from his home in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., but also a football powerhouse trying to establish itself inside a basketball conference, Drumwright has helped do what many believe would be impossible — bring relevance to the Gamecock men’s basketball program.

The seed for success was planted years ago, though.

During the 2014-15 season, Drumwright, then a true freshman appeared in 30 of 31 games. He averaged 21.8 minutes in those 30 games. But the biggest indicator came when he started six of the final seven games. Drumwright played 34 of 40 minutes and had eight points, seven assists and four steals in a 72-70 win over conference powerhouse Belmont.

That performance carried over to the 2015-16 season, where Drumwright started 24 games before an injury halted his season. However, he scored in double figures in 18 games during the season, including a career-high 30-point game against Jacksonville University.

His teammates Erik Durham and Greg Tucker reached the same scoring mark later in the season.

Then his junior season came. That’s when Drumwright took his play for another level.

In 34 games, Drumwright averaged 12.5 points, 3.9 assists, 2.4 rebounds. He was one of three JSU players to average 30-or-more minutes a game and dished out a team-high 129 assists. He became the first Gamecock to dish out 10-or-more assists in a game when he had a 14-point, 12-assist double-double against Mississippi Valley State. He became the first Gamecock to win when Ohio Valley Conference Tournament Most Valuable Player award when JSU knocked off UT Martin 66-55 to win its third game in four days to claim the first conference championship in men’s basketball.

Against Louisville in the NCAA Division I Tournament, Drumwright scored 12 points, dished out six assists and brought down two rebounds in 36 minutes.

His school was known. His name was known. Basketball was known.

Before the start of the 2017-18 season, Drumwright was one of two Gamecocks (Norbertas Giga the other) to be named as a preseason All-OVC player. But the accomplishments didn’t stop for the senior. He’s set the JSU Division I record for career starts and flying up the school’s Division I scoring list as quickly as his school turned into a conference title contender under head coach Ray Harper.

Through all the statistics, the scores, games won, and games lost, the thing that separates Drumwright from the rest is simple — how he handles himself.

No matter the end result of games, Drumwright has always been gracious when it comes to media availability. He’s always kept his cool and never said anything negative when a call on the court goes against him — he just walks away from the situation without saying a word.

With everything going on in today’s world, being able to know when to remain silent and not escalate a situation is key.

With Drumwright’s career in a Jacksonville State uniform coming to a close in the coming weeks, one can’t help but appreciate how much he’s done to help turn around the program and become the face and captain of a resurgence.