Daniel Mayes, Staff Reporter
INDIANAPOLIS – Despite an early 10-2 lead and a career day from Norbertas Giga, the 15-seed Jacksonville State Gamecocks came up short against 2-seeded Louisville by a score of 78-63 on Friday in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Giga was huge on the biggest stage for the Gamecocks, pulling down nine rebounds and drilling all five of his 3-point attempts en route to a career-high 30 points.
However, JSU couldn’t overcome Louisville’s size, strength and tenacity inside.
The Cardinals pulled down 16 offensive rebounds to JSU’s four, leading to a 24-3 disparity in second chance points, and Louisville scored 44 points in the paint to Jacksonville State’s 14.
“The game was determined by our inability to rebound the ball,” JSU Coach Ray Harper said after the game. “It wasn’t because of a lack of effort. Their length and athleticism caused us some problems.”
Jacksonville State scored the first eight points of the game as the Cardinals struggled to find the basket early.
The Gamecocks held the lead until the 7:38 mark of the first half before a 3-pointer from Louisville’s Deng Adel gave the Cardinals their first lead.
The Cardinals built their lead up to 38-29 just before halftime, but a Tyrik Edwards layup just before the buzzer made it 38-31 at the break.
A cold stretch to start the second half sunk the Gamecocks’ chances to pull of the upset.
JSU scored just after the break, but the Gamecocks couldn’t find the basket again until the 14:29 mark, allowing the Cardinals to build a 15-point lead at 48-33.
Jacksonville State was able to cut the lead to nine with 6:53 left, but six quick points from Louisville boosted the lead back to 15, and JSU was unable to get it back within single digits the rest of the way.
Alongside Giga, Malcolm Drumwright scored 12 and Greg Tucker tallied 11 in his final game in a JSU uniform. Louisville held JSU senior Erik Durham to just two points on only one shot attempt.
Mangok Mathiang, led the Cardinals with 18 points, and Quentin Snider and Adel added 16 apiece.
Louisville Coach and Basketball Hall of Famer Rick Pitino praised Jacksonville State for their effort in the loss.
“We had relentless pressure on them. They never stopped, kept staying in the game.”
Despite closing out the season with a loss, Jacksonville State heads into the offseason with some momentum.
With a 20-win season, an OVC Championship and the program’s first ever March Madness appearance under their belt, the Gamecocks set their sights on returning to the same position next March.