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.
—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.
—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.