Tag: OVC Champions

‘One for the thumb’: Gamecocks win fifth straight OVC ring

(Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star)
The JSU  Football team celebrates winning their fifth consecutive OVC title after their 41-14 win over Tennessee State on Saturday.

Five in a row.

For the fifth time in five years under Coach John Grass, the Jacksonville State University Gamecocks have won the Ohio Valley Conference Championship.

“It’s a pretty special thing. I don’t know many college athletes that have four championships, let alone five,” Coach Grass said at Monday’s press conference. “These guys have got one for the thumb. It’s very impressive when you look back at it.”

For the first time under Grass however, that conference championship wasn’t pretty.

After losing to Southeast Missouri State earlier in the year, snapping their 36-game win streak in the OVC, Grass’s Gamecocks needed outside help for the first time to win the conference outright.

They got that help on Saturday, as Murray State completed a 31-point comeback against SEMO with a wild finish that included 20 points in the final 1:42 of game time and a game-winning kick return for touchdown with just three seconds remaining on the clock. Murray State left the door open for JSU with a 40-38 victory.

The Gamecocks took advantage of the opportunity with their 41-14 win over their final OVC opponent of the season, Tennessee State, securing the title once again.

Quarterback Zerrick Cooper had a big day in the conference-clinching win, throwing for 272 yards and three touchdowns. Two went to Jamari Hester and one to Josh Pearson, who extends his school-record receiving touchdowns mark to 16 on the season. Cooper also tied Ryan Perrilloux’s single-season school record for passing touchdowns in a season with 23.

“It’s definitely a blessing to win five conference championships since I’ve been here,” said redshirt senior lineman Tyler Scozzaro.

Scozzaro, who has been with the JSU football program since 2013, is one of five Gamecocks to have been on the roster for all five championship seasons.

EJ Moss, Emmanuel Fennel, Quan Stoudemire and Cade Stinnett will join Scozzaro in having received all five rings.

The win also secured the OVC’s Automatic Qualifier spot for the playoffs for JSU, promising a playoff berth that looked in doubt as recently as the previous week, when the Gamecocks trailed UT Martin late in the game at home, before a game-winner from Cooper to Hester lifted JSU.

JSU closes the regular season with a matchup against playoff-bound Kennesaw State, who ousted the Gamecocks in last season’s playoff opener 17-7. The game, played at the Atlanta Braves’ SunTrust Park on Saturday, holds major playoff implications for both sides, as a win could secure a first-round bye for either quad, while a loss all but guarantees a game Thanksgiving weekend for the Gamecocks.

Armed with their five-straight conference championships, JSU will head into the playoffs in search of their first national title.



Brown: Gamecocks’ win over Bruins biggest of Harper’s tenure

By Chris Allen Brown/Associate Editor

In two quick years, Ray Harper has helped take the Jacksonville State men’s basketball program to heights unseen in over 20 years. So, it’s not crazy to say last Thursday’s 78-67 win over Belmont was the biggest of his short tenure, right?

Yes, the trio of wins against Southeast Missouri, Belmont and UT Martin in the 2017 Ohio Valley Conference tournament were remarkable, especially beating the Bruins and Skyhawks — the tournament’s top two seeds — on back-to-back nights, but people didn’t really expect the Gamecocks to win those games.

But back to last week’s victory. Think about all the extra storylines surrounding the game: dedicating the court to Bill Jones (who won the school’s only basketball national championship in 1985), celebrating a trio of seniors (Des Curry, Norbertas Giga and all-time great Malcolm Drumwright), staying in contention for a first-round bye in this week’s conference tournament and the pressure of playing conference powerhouse Belmont on national television.

With the celebration of Jones’ accomplishments came the attendance of former players under the three-time Gulf South Conference Coach of the Year. Those players may have been entertaining the idea of returning to Pete Mathews Coliseum for some time now but needed something to get them over the hump.

They needed an entertaining and signature win to feel the program was in good hands and trending upward.

They needed to see Giga hyping up the crowd during the second half.

They needed to see Drumwright sinking the dagger 3-point basket late in the game.

They needed to see this game.

Speaking of things people needed, who better to need the win than the players.

It had been 14 days since JSU beat Tennessee Tech 82-65 in Jacksonville. Within the two weeks, the Gamecocks dropped a home game against Tennessee State (47-65), at Murray State (60-68) and at Austin Peay (57-60). The players needed confidence heading into this past weekend’s regular-season finale in Cookeville, Tenn.

Boy, did they get that against the Bruins. Just look at the statistics.

Marlon Hunter, who played under Harper at Western Kentucky, followed his 21-point performance against Belmont with 14 against the Golden Eagles. Christian Cunningham finished with 10 points and 13 rebounds Saturday after having eight and seven Thursday night. Jason Burnell, after having 10 points and 10 rebounds against the Bruins, had 12 and four over the weekend. Oh, and that Drumwright kid, had eight points and four assists against TTU, which came after posting 11 and nine in the final home game of his JSU career.

Combining everyone’s performances resulted in JSU earning the No. 4 seed in the 2018 OVC Tournament with a 66-57 win at Tennessee Tech.

All far as having everyone’s attention, the Gamecocks are 5-4 in games played on ESPN3, ESPNU, SEC Network+, Fox Sports Midwest, CBS Sports Network, Pac-12 Network and NBC Sports Washington. (Those losses to Oregon State, Mississippi State, Buffalo and SIUE were by a combined 17 points.)

Only time will tell how much impact the Belmont and Tennessee Tech wins will factor into JSU’s postseason run this year, but if there are any clues, if the Gamecocks win the conference tournament, again, no one will be surprised.



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.


Gamecocks hold off UT Martin for fourth consecutive OVC title

JSU took down UT Martin 14-7 on Saturday to earn their fourth consecutive Ohio Valley Conference championship. (Matt Reynolds/JSU)

Timothy Cash, Sports Editor

 No 2 Jacksonville State claimed their fourth-straight Ohio Valley Conference championship Saturday, squeaking by UT Martin 14-7.

The Gamecocks also extended their OVC-win streak to 31, and picked up the OVC’s automatic FCS playoff birth.

“I’m proud of this team for getting us right where we want to be at the end of the season,” head coach John Grass said after the game.

“Proud of all the guys who’ve come before them to make this four in a row happen.

It’s pretty special when you look back at it. But right now, we don’t have time to look back at it – we have to get ready for Tennessee State.”

Jacksonville State’s (9-1, 7-0) ground game punched in two first half touchdowns via Roc Thomas, while the Gamecocks defense limited UT Martin to only 83 offensive yards.

However, the Gamecocks had to fight off a second-half resurgence by UTM to secure the win.

Linebacker Joseph Roberts secured the win for JSU when he landed on a fumble by Skyhawks’ quarterback Dresser Winn with 1:09 remaining in the contest.

“It’s a great win on the road. We knew it was going to be tough coming up here,” Grass said.

“We didn’t make enough plays to get the ball in the end zone. A few scores were left out there … but it was just a good, solid win.”

Jacksonville State’s first score came on a 75-yard eight-play drive that was capped off with Thomas finding his way into the end zone on second-and-goal from the one-yard line.

Three Gamecock drives late, Jacksonville State found pay dirt again on a four-play drive that lasted less than a minute that saw Thomas picked up his second score on a 14-yard run.

The Skyhawks’ (5-5, 3-4) lone scoring drive came late in the third quarter.

Staring at their own six-yard line, Peyton Logan weaved his way through the defense for a 51-yard gallop to the Gamecocks’ 42-yard line.

Two plays later, Winn connected with Devonte Howard for a 32-yard touchdown.

Thomas finished with 52 rushing yards on 14 carries.

Tramel Terry found 61 rushing yards, and picked up 19 receiving yards on three receptions.

Bryant Horn passed for 92 yards on eight completions, and led the gamecocks with 86 yards on the ground.

Trae Barry led the Gamecocks’ receiving corps with 34 yards on two receptions.

Marlon Bridges and Quan Stoudemire led Jax State with eight tackles apiece. Jonathan Hagler picked up seven tackles.

Darius Jackson forced two sacks for a loss of 18 yards, and had five total tackles.

Logan led the Skyhawks with 54 rushing yards.

Landarius Galloway found 31 rushing yards. Winn completed 13 passes for 128 yards.

Howards found 37-yards on two catches.

Jacksonville State now turns their attention to Tennessee State for the final game of the 2017 regular season.

Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday, November 16.

Streaming is available on ESPN3 and Watch ESPN.

Coverage can also be heard on the JSU Radio Network.

I Love Basketball: Following JSU’s run to the NCAA Tournament

Daniel Mayes, Staff Writer

I love basketball.

I am a big fan of all sports and consume sports media at a somewhat-maybe-probably unhealthy level, but something about basketball sets it apart from the others for me. However, as a 5-foot-9-inch, un-athletic student at Fyffe High School (yes, it is a real place), my basketball playing dreams led me to the frustrating experience of being just good enough to remain on the team but not quite good enough to crack the normal rotation. I stuck it out and remained on the team because I just loved being in a basketball gym everyday. Plus, I always told myself, all these long hours of practice and getting yelled at and suicide sprints will be worth it for those few games a year when my team was up by 20 in the fourth quarter (thanks Ider), and I would get to go in the game.

So, after I played (or didn’t play in) my final high school game in Jacksonville State’s own Pete Mathews Coliseum in the Regional Final, I was depressed. Not just the normal, my-team-lost-a-big-game-depressed, but basketball-is-over-and-I’ll-never-get-to-do-this-again-depressed. Which is true. I’ll never get a chance to be on a basketball team like that (barring an unforeseen late growth spurt of about a foot and a half). But, now that I’m in college at JSU, I’ve found a different way to remain around the game I love.

Coming in to my Freshman year at Jacksonville State, I had no idea what I wanted to study in college. I was the kid that always answered “Daniel Mayes, undecided” when we had to introduced ourselves on the first day of class and the professor would always be like “It’s okay, you have time to decide.” I really stressed over the decision to declare a major, and I didn’t have one until the very end of my freshman year. Sure, I could have just picked something and changed it later, but I am the type of person that wants to be really positively sure about something before I commit to something. I knew all along that I wanted to do something with my life that would keep me in close contact with sports in some context, but I just didn’t know how I wanted to accomplish that. I’ve always had somewhat of a talent for writing (I think anyway), and being the huge sports-media-nerd that I am, I began to look at sports journalism as a possible career path. I worried and debated and deliberated over the decision for a long time, but, finally, I decided on a major of communication with a concentration in digital journalism.

Not long after that, my friend Katie Cline was hired as the Editor-in-chief of The Chanticleer. She asked me if I wanted to write for the newspaper, and I agreed. In Fall 2016, I began writing sports stories for The Chanticleer. I covered football, soccer and volleyball games, but what I was looking forward to the most was covering basketball. I had been to a few men’s basketball games during the 2015-16 season, but found it tough to get excited and invested in the program with the perpetual cycle of losing the team had been under for the past few years (the team finished 8-23 last season). I had heard great things about JSU’s new coach, Ray Harper, and I had high hopes for the future of the Gamecock basketball program, but I had no idea the incredible journey the 2016-17 Jacksonville State basketball season would take me on.

The Gamecocks started the season off with 16 of their first 17 games on the road, so I didn’t get a chance to watch them much in person, but I caught them as much as I could whenever they were broadcast on TV or streamed online, and I could already tell I liked what I saw. The difference in attitude and intensity coach Harper had instilled in the team in such a short time since taking over the job was just amazing to me, and this was only reinforced when they finally returned to Pete Mathews Coliseum for some games. Because I was covering the games for The Chanticleer, I was issued a press pass and allowed to sit on press row for the games, which I thought was just ridiculously cool in and of itself. Growing up watching an absurd number of basketball games on TV, I always was envious of the people that had such access to the sport like that, and, now, here was ya boy Daniel Mayes, sitting there, getting to take games in up close and write about the sport I loved.

The Gamecocks continued to improve throughout the season, and finished out the regular season with a 17-14 record (9-7 OVC), good enough for a four seed in the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament, which JSU had not even qualified for since 2011-12. The Tournament was held in Nashville, and, after I was issued a credential, suddenly I was off to cover the team’s journey in the tourney. The Gamecocks opened with a win over Southeast Missouri State, but I was more in awe of the atmosphere of the whole event. I got to sit at the press table, write about the game, and even attend the postgame press conference which was still just so ridiculously cool for me.

On the next night, the Gamecocks were slated to take on regular season OVC champs Belmont in the semifinals, and, prior to the game, not many, including carefully hopeful me, gave Jacksonville State much of a chance. Belmont had finished the season with a 15-1 record in the OVC and had beaten JSU fairly handily twice. However, just like for me, the basketball season was about making what seemed possible a reality for Jacksonville State, and they took down the Bruins. Despite my supposed journalistic impartiality, I found it really difficult to stop smiling as I sat in the press room after the game listening to coach Harper describe the victory.

In the finals, Jacksonville State took on UT Martin, and, despite some lead changes early, the Gamecocks took control late in the first half and cruised to their first OVC Championship and berth in “The Big Dance,” the NCAA Tournament. As I stood on the court taking pictures as the players celebrated their victory, it did not even dawn on me yet that I might get to attend and sit at press row and cover an actual legit March Madness game.

However, (thanks to the driving of Chanticleer Sports Editor Tim Cash), I found myself in Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis as the Gamecocks took on Louisville. In the NCAA Tournament. With nearly 20,000 people there. In a game that 2.4 million watched on TV because it was being broadcasted on actual CBS. Despite a 78-63 loss, I was extremely proud of Jacksonville State University. Despite being overmatched against a great Louisville squad, they came out and played their hardest and even lead 8-0 to start off the game. After the game, as I sat in the bowels of the arena in the media workroom, I found myself feeling sad. Not a my-team-lost-a-big-game-sad, but basketball-is-over-but-thankfully-I’ll-only-have-to-wait-until-next-year-to-do-this-again-sad.

The old saying is “Do what you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life.” I know I’m just starting out in my (hopefully long and successful) career in the field of sports journalism, but I don’t see how the experiences I have been through in the past few months could ever possibly get old or boring or tedious. I’d like to thank JSU, the basketball team, and The Chanticleer for making what was just a mere pipe dream a few short weeks ago into a reality. I know it may not seem like a big deal to some people, but for someone like me, the journey I have just been on truly was a dream come true.