EVANSVILLE, Ind. —What a game. What a comeback. For Jacksonville State, what a heartbreak.
Even after a furious 20-point second half comeback for the Gamecocks, JSU fell to Murray State 70-63 in the Ohio Valley Tournament semifinals to end their season.
“These kids fought and battled right to the bitter end,” said Coach Harper.
Early on, everything went Murray’s way.
The Racers were scorching hot to begin the game. They raced out to an advantage by knocking down their first four three-point attempts and 10 of their first 13 overall.
After an 11-0 run by the Racers ending at the 9:59 mark of the first, Murray State held a 14-point lead at 27-13, and the crowd, which was overwhelmingly pro-Racer, became deafening.
The Gamecock offense started to catch up with the Racers, however, and the two teams traded baskets for the remainder of the opening period, and the margin stood at 37-25 at the half.
The Gamecocks came out of the locker room looking to cut into the deficit, but instead, it was Murray State that entered the second half on fire.
After a Johnathan Stark three with 13:48 remaining, the Racer lead reached 20, and it looked like the Gamecocks would be run right out of the Ford Center.
Jacksonville State had been through too much this season to go quietly, however.
A dunk by Jacara Cross, a three from Jamall Gregory and another slam from Christian Cunningham, and, suddenly, the Gamecocks were clawing their way back into the game.
The run reached 13-0, cutting the deficit to 51-44, before the Racers finally answered. Then the Gamecocks just kept coming.
With 4:19 left, the JSU comeback was complete. Jason Burnell spun past a defender in the post and laid it in to tie the game at 60-60. The Gamecocks even took a lead at 63-62 with 2:41 left.
If this were a movie, the Gamecocks would have finished off the miraculous comeback and gotten the win. But, sadly for the smattering of JSU fans in attendance, it wasn’t to be.
Stark hit yet another three, then two free throws, then a Shaq Buchanan tip-in gave the Racers a six-point lead with 32 seconds left that sealed it. After the Gamecocks took their lead, Murray State scored the final eight points of the game to win it 70-63.
Cunningham, Gregory and Marlon Hunter, who were the driving force behind JSU’s comeback run, finished with 16, 15 and 13 respectively.
Senior captain Malcolm Drumwright, who scored the very first points of the game on a three, was held scoreless the rest of the way on 1-10 shooting in the final game of a spectacular career in a JSU uniform. The game was also the final for Norbertas Giga, who has also been an instrumental part of JSU basketball in the last two seasons.
“These two seniors have done things in the last two years that haven’t been done [at Jacksonville State],” said Harper after the game.
Drumwright and Giga saw Jax State go from OVC basement dwellers to winning 20 games in each of their final two seasons, including the school’s first OVC title last year.
The Gamecocks close the season with a 21-12 overall, a new Division I program wins record.
Jamall Gregory throws down a dunk over a Tennessee Tech defender (JSU Athletics)
Daniel Mayes, Sports Editor
EVANSVILLE, Ind.—The journey in the tourney for the Jacksonville State men’s basketball team is officially underway.
The Gamecocks took down Tennessee Tech 73-70 in the quarterfinals of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament, setting up a semifinal date with top seed Murray State.
“I knew it was going to be a tough game, but, again, we found a way,” Coach Ray Harper said after the game.
A sloppy opening to the game resulted in a 30-28 halftime lead for the Gamecocks largely thanks to the play of Marlon Hunter. Hunter was the only consistent offensive force in the first half, finishing the opening period with 12 points and six rebounds, four of which came on the offensive end. Hunter would tally 18 total in the game on 8-for-12 shooting.
The Gamecocks outshot Tech 41% to 28% in the first half, but the Golden Eagles used a 12-15 free throw mark—compared to JSU’s 4-6—to remain in the game.
In the second half for the Gamecocks, senior center Norbertas Giga brought the Gamecock offense to life.
The Lithuanian big man, who made national headlines earlier in the week when he reunited with his mother after five years, was held scoreless in the first half, but burst out in the second, scoring JSU’s first six points of the half en route to 15 points on 7-for-9 from the field.
Giga sparked a 7-0 Gamecock run that pushed JSU’s lead to nine at the 13:51 mark, and the Gamecocks managed to push the lead to double digits a few minutes later.
Tennessee Tech would not go quietly, however.
The Golden Eagles made it uncomfortably close for Jacksonville State late, but thanks to some timely shots, including a Jamall Gregory Sportscenter Top 10 worthy dunk over a Tennessee Tech defender, the Gamecocks held on for a 73-70 win. Gregory would also score 18 in the game, tying Hunter’s team lead.
Jacksonville State will take on Murray State in the semifinals Friday night at 6:30 p.m. The Gamecocks split the regular season series with the 24-5 Racers, taking their home contest 76-71 before falling on the road 68-60.
Malcolm Drumwright warms up before Jacksonville State’s NCAA Tournament game against Louisville last March. (Matt Reynolds/JSU)
Daniel Mayes, Sports Editor
Forty-nine seconds left. Gamecocks clinging to a five-point lead over OVC juggernaut Belmont. Malcolm Drumwright, as he has so many times in a Gamecock uniform, rose up and released a huge shot. As has happened so many times in Drumwright’s career, swish. JSU 75, Belmont 67. Bruins cannot recover. Jacksonville State wins.
That shot was Malcolm Drumwright’s last in Pete Mathews Coliseum. The senior, who has been through so much team turmoil and spectacular success in his four-year career in Jacksonville, knew his team needed him to make a play in his last home game, on senior night, with tournament seeding on the line, and he delivered.
“I just try to stay confident. I just shoot the shots I normally shoot.” That’s what Malcolm told me just hours before that shot when I asked him about his mindset in game-ending situations. Drumwright is such a calm, quiet, confident guy in general, it is easy to see why shots like this don’t faze him.
Malcolm Drumwright grew up the youngest of four brothers in Rancho Cucamonga, California, a suburban city some thirty miles from downtown Los Angeles.
In his youth, Malcolm says his basketball career didn’t exactly start off on the right foot.
“I wasn’t that good as a kid I don’t think, but I kept working. If you put in work, good stuff happens.”
Drumwright’s hard work paid off, and, in his last year at Rancho Cucamonga High School, he averaged 20.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and 3.5 steals. However, Drumwright didn’t yet have any scholarship offers to play basketball, and he attended LA College Prep.
That’s when he got a phone call from former Jacksonville State assistant coach Eugene Harris.
“That’s when I first really heard of JSU,” Drumwright said. “I thought I was in Florida at first, I had to look it up.”
Jacksonville State eventually offered Drumwright a scholarship, and he decided to take it.
“It was my only offer, so I’m going to take it. I’ve got to make the most of every opportunity.”
Drumwright arrived on campus for the 2014-15 season ready to reward Jacksonville State for giving him that opportunity.
Malcolm Drumwright developed into a floor general during his time at JSU. (Katy Nowak/JSU)
Drumwright saw his role slowly grow as he proved himself as a freshman. He came on strong as the season rolled along toward conference play, finally earning a starting job for six of the final seven games of the season.
The Gamecocks, however, didn’t enjoy much team success. Jacksonville State finished just 12-19, including a 5-11 mark in the OVC. Malcolm, however, headed into his sophomore season ready to prove himself, and, on an individual level, he did.
Drumwright upped his scoring from six points per game to 14, but the Gamecocks’ record nose-dived even further, plunging to 8-23. Malcolm injured his shoulder against Belmont late in the season and missed the final seven games, all of which Jacksonville State lost.
Malcolm says it was tough playing through those first two seasons with such a poor team performance, but he never thought of leaving.
“It was rough, but we stayed the course, and I knew that anything could happen. I was going to stay regardless.”
Enter Ray Harper.
Jacksonville State let Coach James Green go after 2015-16, and in came the coach that had national championships, albeit on the Division II level, on his resumé. Harper helped instill a winning culture at Jacksonville State, and Malcolm Drumwright spearheaded the revolution for the Gamecocks on the court.
Drumwright’s scoring took a slight dip to 12.5 points per game, but he became a steady, consistnent force for the Gamecocks, leading them in scoring, but also setting the table for his teammates as a point guard, and team leader should.
Drumwright was named MVP of the OVC Tournament last season. (Katy Nowak/JSU)
Under Harper and Drumwright, Jacksonville State led a program turnaround and a regular season finish of 17-14.
Drumwright says that the rough beginning to his career in a JSU uniform made the success of the 2016-17 season even sweeter. “We weren’t so good to begin with, and then we just kept building and kept growing. It felt good. It felt really good.”
The story, if had ended there, would have been nice. A team that had been toiling in the doldrums of mediocrity for years has a good, winning season.
However, as JSU fans well know, Drumwright and the Gamecocks weren’t done yet.
Jacksonville State was picked to finish 12th out of 12 teams at OVC Media Day prior to the 2016-17 season, but, when the Gamecocks rolled into Nashville for the OVC tournament last March, they were on a mission to prove that claim ridiculous. An opening win over Southeast Missouri, a shocking upset over Belmont in the Semis and a takedown of UT Martin in the Finals later, and the Gamecocks stood as OVC Champions. Drumwright was named Tournament MVP, and the University was set to make its first appearance in “The Big Dance” itself, the NCAA Tournament.
Drumwright celebrates JSU’s conference title with former Gamecock Greg Tucker. (Katy Nowak/JSU)
The Gamecocks fell to Louisville in their opening game, but they acquitted themselves well.
Drumwright, as calmly and stoically as he always does, put up 12 points and six assists as the Gamecocks’ spectacular season ended.
“It was crazy. I never thought it would happen, but it was fun,” Drumwright said of the tournament run.
I’m sure that statement would describe the feelings of all JSU fans about the 2016-17 basketball season.
Fast forward to the present. Through another steady season as a Senior, Malcolm has lead a more inexperienced, yet deeper squad back to the OVC tournament. It’s been a season of ups and downs in Jacksonville, but Drumwright thinks the Gamecocks are capable of returning to the heights of last season.
“I feel confident. If we play the best we can and as hard as we can, we can beat anybody.”
Meanwhile, Drumwright has etched himself in the record books of Jacksonville State and cemented his legacy as one of the greatest Gamecocks to ever take the court in Pete Mathews.
Earlier this season, he broke the 1000 points scored barrier, and he’ll finish first in Gamecock Division I history in games played and started and second in career scoring.
He’ll be remembered as the player that led Jacksonville State to their first NCAA Tournament, and, if Malcolm has anything to say about it in the tournament this weekend, maybe their second.
Pretty good for a kid with only one scholarship offer.
The Jacksonville State men’s basketball team (20-11, 11-7 OVC) took home a 66-57 win over Tennessee Tech in their final regular season game on Saturday, clinching the No. 4 seed in the upcoming Ohio Valley Conference Championship and earning its second consecutive 20-win season.
Former Head Coach Bill Jones was the last coach to lead the Gamecocks to back-to-back 20-win seasons in 1990-91 and 1991-92.
Senior Norbertas Giga added the first points to the board Saturday after a foul by TTU’s Mason Ramsey. After a 2 from junior Marlon Hunter, Tennessee Tech’s Shaq Calhoun tied the game 3-3 at the 16:25 mark.
A short range shot from Cunningham at 15:28 gave the Gamecocks back a lead that they would not relinquish for the remainder of the contest.
Maurice Dunlap earned the first 3-pointer for JSU with 4:21 remaining, and JSU led 26-19 at the half thanks to a 35.71% shooting average over TTU’s 24.14%.
Following a foul from Burnell, the Golden Eagles’ Courtney Alexander earned the first two points of the second half, but a layup by JSU’s Norbertas Giga would extend the Gamecock lead back to seven points.
TTU managed to pull within three points of Jacksonville’s lead at the 7:56 mark of the second half. The Gamecock’s defense reacted by preventing TTU from making any field goals for the next five minutes of play, but the Golden Eagles kept the deficit slim by converting on six free throws.
The Gamecock lead stayed under 10 for the remainder of the game, but an 8-2 Gamecock run after the 4:34 mark solidified their lead and pushed the team to their 66-57 victory.
Hunter was a strong presence in the game, bucketing 14 points as the night’s top scorer for JSU, followed by 12 from Jason Burnell and 11 from Giga. Junior Christian Cunningham, earning a double-double, registered 10 points and 13 rebounds.
For his performance in the game against TTU and his 21 points against Belmont on February 22, Hunter was named OVC Newcomer of the Week.
Jacksonville’s 20-7 bench points and 34-24 points-in-paint edge over Tennessee Tech helped boost the Gamecocks to the win, and JSU held a 38.3% shooting percentage over TTU’s 31.1% for the game.
The Gamecocks will face off against the winner of the first-round game between Tennessee Tech and SIUE on Thursday, March 1 at 6:30 p.m. in Evansville, Indiana.
JSU swept their two matchups against the Golden Eagles this season, but fell to SIUE 75-67 in their only contest.
A Gamecock victory in the quarterfinals would mean JSU would move on to face Murray State, the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, in the semifinals Friday night.
Jacksonville State fell once again to Austin Peay Feb. 17, 57-60 in Clarksville, Tennessee, marking their third straight loss.
Before these three defeats, Jacksonville State (18-11, 9-7 OVC) had not lost back to back games yet this season.
In each loss, the Gamecocks lost both the turnover and three-point shooting battles with their opponents, most notably with 19 turnovers against Tennessee State and shooting 1-11 from three against Murray State.
In the last meeting between Jacksonville State and Austin Peay, the Governors defeated the Gamecocks 87-67, Jan. 13.
JSU struggled to defend against Austin Peay’s offense in their first matchup. This time, Jacksonville State held the Governors to 60 points, 27 less than before, but the Gamecock couldn’t put them over the top.
Austin Peay opened up with a quick lead of 19-4 and continued the pressure to close out the first half with a ten-point lead, 21-31.
After a missed three by Jamall Gregory, the Governors’ Tre Ivory hit a huge three off of the assist from Zach Glotta on the other end to finish the first half and carry momentum into the second.
Austin Peay’s defensive prowess forced a devastating seven turnovers for the Gamecocks in the second half, cutting potential game-changing runs short.
Neither side excelled in three-point shooting on Saturday, but what separated the two teams was the free throw shooting in the second half.
The Gamecocks shot 50% from the free throw line while the Governors shot 70%. Jacksonville State left the opening for Austin Peay to pull away with the victory by leaving points on the board.
In the final two minutes, the Gamecocks’ Malcolm Drumwright, Christian Cunningham, and Cam Martin all missed a free throw a piece that could have tied the game at 60.
With eight seconds remaining, Austin Peay’s Zach Glotta missed one of two free throws to give Jacksonville State one last chance to force overtime with a three-pointer.
With the final shot and three seconds remaining, Junior Forward, Jason Burnell missed the game-tying three.
Dayton Gumm pulled down the game-sealing defensive rebound to end the Gamecocks comeback hopes and complete Austin Peay’s victory, 60-57.
Jacksonville state played well in the paint, scoring 32 points in the post out of their 57 total points, compared to Austin Peay’s 20.
Cam Martin scored 18 points, along with 10 rebounds for his first double-double of the season and his collegiate career
Veteran guard, Malcolm Drumwright played all 40 minutes of the game while putting up 10 points, making this the sixth time of the season that he has played at least 40 minutes in a game.
Marlon Hunter also scored 10 points on 5 of 9 shooting.
Jacksonville State will play Belmont on Super Hero night, Feb. 22 at home on ESPNU at 8 p.m.
Belmont is coming off a 108-65 victory over Morehead State. The Bruins have won three straight and 11 out of their last 12 games, putting them at 22-7 overall and 14-2 in the Ohio Valley Conference.