Tag: Rick Pietri

Gamecocks come into season with high expectations all around

JSU Sportswire

Daniel Mayes, Editor-in-Chief

The Jacksonville State University Basketball squads roll toward the start of the season under what may be the highest collective expectations in the programs’ Division I histories.

After both the Men’s and Women’s teams equaled or surpassed the Division I wins record, with 23 and 19 victories respectively, in a stellar 2017-2018 campaign in Jacksonville, there’s no wondering why optimism abounds around Gamecock Basketball.

Both programs were chosen by the Ohio Valley Conference Coaches as third in the conference, with Ray Harper and the JSU Men coming just behind perennial OVC powers Belmont and Murray State, while Rick Pietri’s Gamecock Women program trails Belmont and UT Martin.

Harper’s squad faces a fair bit of roster turnover after last season’s record-setting campaign.

Senior leaders and cornerstones of the Harper-led renaissance of Gamecock basketball Malcolm Drumwright and Norbertas Giga have graduated and moved on to professional careers overseas in Georgia and Lithuania respectively. Also gone are fellow senior and Jacksonville native Des Curry and underclassmen Tyrik Edwards, Cam Martin, Ashton Spears, Deon Wright and Mohamed Abuarisha.

The Gamecocks still return a strong core, bringing back pre-season All-OVC big men Jason Burnell and Christian Cunningham as well as Jamall Gregory, Marlon Hunter, Maurice Dunlap and Jacara Cross.

Newcomers Detrick Mostella and Ty Hudson, who were on the Gamecock roster last year but sat out because of NCAA transfer rules, along with transfers Derek St. Hilaire, De’Torrion Ware and Jacob Hyde and Freshmen Maros Zeliznak and Cam Jones will be tasked with filling the holes left by Drumwright and Giga.

Mostella, who is a native of Decatur, Alabama, starred at Tennessee for three seasons prior to arriving in Jacksonville. Hudson played for two years at Clemson.

Pietri’s team returns more of last year’s team than Harper, but loses the senior trio of Tyler ‘Cocoa’ Phelion, Tasha Magruder and Gretchen Morrison, who made up the core of the stingy defensive squad the Gamecocks put out last year.

The Gamecocks also miss Leah Strain, Morgan Towells, Ki-Ki Patterson and Jordan Norris.

However, Pietri and company welcome Freshmen Jutoreyia Willis, Yamia Johnson, Regan Dargan and Karleigh Sledge, along with Holmes Community College Transfer Brittany Webster, into the fold.

JSU Women’s Basketball opened their season with a 62-31 win over Florida A&M in Tuesday, while Harper and the new look Gamecocks travel to Samford Friday night to tipoff their campaign.

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.

Don’t overlook what Pietri and the Gamecocks are doing this season

01112018 WB Murray State 69

Chris Allen Brown, Associate Editor

Jacksonville State women’s basketball team’s last-second 62-61 win over Tennessee State Saturday afternoon got me thinking — the Gamecocks are quietly having a remarkable season.

Yes, Rick Pietri’s squad dropped back-to-back games against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville then Tennessee Tech, but the win against the Tigers over the weekend will all but send the Gamecocks to Evansville, Indiana for the Ohio Valley Conference tournament for the third time under Pietri and the first since 2014.

Early in the season, Jacksonville State held a first-quarter lead against nationally-ranked Florida State, and, despite scoring woes during the third quarter, the Gamecocks bounced back in the fourth to show their fight. JSU also has notable non-conference wins against Rhode Island, Eastern Carolina and New Orleans. It had a chance against Miami (Ohio) University, but a late fourth-quarter rally came up short.

In conference play, wins over Eastern Kentucky, Morehead State and Tennessee State had Jacksonville State sitting atop the OVC standings at the turn of the calendar. The Gamecocks responded from a 16-point loss at Belmont with wins over Murray State, Austin Peay and Morehead State. JSU dropped the next two by a combined eight points, before knocking off Southeast Missouri State and Eastern Illinois, which lead into the losses against SIUE and TTU.

Four games remain on the regular-season schedule, including road games at Murray State, Austin Peay and Tennessee Tech. The lone remaining game inside Pete Mathews Coliseum for Pietri and his players is about Belmont, which this week broke into the AP Top 25 for the first time in school history.

The thing with this team, as Pietri has noted before, is everyone is in it together. Everyone isn’t playing for themselves, but rather the name on the front of the jerseys.

You won’t find any player winning OVC Player of the Week, because everyone would rather help a teammate score rather than score themselves. For example, on a 2-on-1 breakaway fast break against TSU last weekend, freshman Taylor Hawks and senior Tasha Magruder passed the ball between themselves twice to make sure one had the great shot rather than a good shot.

11 players have seen game action in 17-or-more games. Of those players, every player has double-digit assists with Hawks leading the way with 74. Magruder (44), Leah Strain (37) and Rayven Pearson (32) are next on the list.

Speaking of Pearson, if she isn’t on a postseason All-OVC team, it’ll be a shame. The junior forward from Hazel Green, Ala., is averaging 9.1 rebounds, 8.6 points, 1.3 assists, 1.3 blocks and 0.8 steals in 22.2 minutes per game. She also has seven points and rebounds double-doubles on the season.

The same can be said for Hawks and her 8.3 points, 2.9 assists, 2.4 rebounds, 0.8 steal stat line in 20.1 minutes per game as a true freshman.

However, besides the assist totals and the defensive stops, maybe the most impressive stat is how Jacksonville State is 10-3 in home games this season.

Each coach will always say they want to make every home game as tough as possible, but it’s all talk until the players back it up. And right now, despite only having one home game left this season, Pietri’s players have backed up the talk.


JSU Women takes down Murray State in overtime

JSU Sportswire
JSU Sportswire

The JSU women snapped their two-game conference losing streak by beating Murray State Saturday afternoon in front of the home crowd at Pete Mathews.

The win gave the Gamecocks an 11-5 overall record with a 2-2 conference record and left the Racers of Murray State with still no wins in the OVC. However, the win did not come easy for JSU as they were forced to fight in overtime for their 78-73 victory.

Murray State jumped out to the early lead as JSU would only have two lone points before they took an impressive 13-2 run and claimed the lead for themselves. Once JSU caught up to the Racers, the game would go back-and-forth between the two teams until the tie at 22 with 8:29 left in the half. After a missed three-pointer from MSU, the Gamecocks made a three-point shot on the arm of Gretchen Morrison. The shot put JSU up by three and prompted an 18-8 run by the Gamecocks over the last part of the half. They would go into the locker room with a 43-30 lead over the Racers.

The 43 points that were scored by the Gamecocks in the first half is the most in a half for Rick Pietri’s team.

Despite JSU’s success in the first half, the MSU Racers were not out for the count. They came out ready to fight the Gamecocks to the bitter end.

By the time nearly four minutes had dwindled off the second half clock, JSU had a 20-point lead and what seemed like the upper hand. But, MSU was not finished. After Leasia Wright made a three-pointer at 16:28, the Racers would go on an 18-2 run and cut Jacksonville State’s lead to one with 9:43 left in the game.

Another three minutes ticked away and JSU had managed to push their lead back out to 11 with a 67-56 score.

The Racers scored 11 unanswered to tie it up at 67 and send the game into overtime after the final two minutes dwindled down without another score.

The Gamecocks and the Racers would battle for the lead for the most of overtime before JSU grabbed a three point lead with 1:40 left. Briana Benson nailed two free-throws and successfully put JSU ahead by five with 17 seconds left. Despite attempts made by MSU, they could not score again and the Gamecocks would win 78-73.

Candace Morton shined in overtime as seven of the 11 JSU points that were scored belonged to her. Benson and Morrison had six three-pointers made between the two of them, while Leah Strain made both of the ones she took. Morton also led the team in scoring as she had 21 points on the night. Benson was next with 15 and Destany McLin had 12.

The Gamecocks will play Southeast Missouri next on Jan. 14 at Pete Mathews.

Rebekah Hawkins
Staff Writer

JSU Women’s Basketball comeback a little too late as they suffer first home loss

The Jacksonville State Women’s Basketball team late rally falls short to Austin Peay 57-54.

JSU, who was undefeated at home, now has a 5-1 record at home. The Gamecocks are 10-5 overall and stand 1-2 in the Ohio Valley Conference.

For the last 13 minutes of the game, JSU held Austin Peay to only six points. JSU went on an 11-3 run to cut the lead down to 10 with 6:15 left in the game. Candace Morton scored seven of those 11.

Austin Peay continuously missed field goals and free throws which helped the Gamecocks stay alive. With 19 seconds left in the game, Morton brought JSU within four points with a layup and free throw due to an Austin Peay foul. Tyler Phelion hit a layup to bring JSU within two points with six seconds left. The Gamecocks had to either foul or steal the ball, so they fouled with six seconds still left. Austin Peay made one of the two free throws, so JSU was only down by three. Jacksonville State grabbed the rebound and drove down the court. Destiny James launched a three that was on target, but fell short.

The Gamecocks had three players in double-digits in points. Destany McLin and Morton both had 12 points while Miranda Cantrell scored 10.

Phelion pulled down 12 rebounds for the game high, but JSU was still out-rebounded 55-41 in the game and shot 29 percent from the field.

“We had the opportunities. So, while we defended well enough, we just couldn’t make any shots,” said head coach Rick Pietri in the post-game interview.

After scoring first and seeing two-tied scores, Austin Peay started to pull away from JSU. Austin Peay went on a 16-5 run during a six-minute span in the first half to go up 36-19 with 4:47 left. Jacksonville State still managed to finish strong with a 9-3 run to end the half and just be down 39-28 at halftime.

Austin Peay found their largest lead in the second half when they went up by 18 with 13:31 left in the game. JSU would then make their comeback, but only to come up short.

Despite the loss, JSU finished strong.

“We still kept the fight defensively and hung in there and found a way to make it a one-possession game,” said coach Pietri. “We fought to give ourselves a chance, unfortunately, we just didn’t make enough baskets to actually win it.”

The JSU Women will have another home game this Saturday where they will face Murray State at 2 p.m.

Marvel Robinson
Sports Editor