Defense sparks Gamecock success

 

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JSU’s Gretchen Morrison guards a Murray State player in the Gamecocks’ 97-65 victory over the Racers on January 11 (photo by Katy Nowak/JSU).

Chris Allen Brown, Associate Editor

Seven. That’s how many conference games it took Rick Pietri and the 2017 Jacksonville State women’s basketball team to match its Ohio Valley Conference win total from a year ago.

But wait, there’s more.

Sporting a 12-7 record at the moment, if JSU earns two more wins during its remaining 10 games, that will allow the Gamecocks to surpass last year’s overall win total (13) and be the most since Jacksonville State went 19-10 during the 2014-15 season, which was when JSU knocked off SEC foe Alabama in Tuscaloosa 64-62 on a last-minute basket by Destiny McLin.

The common thread between the two teams is on the defensive end of the court.

At the beginning of the 2014-15 season, Pietri and his players held seven of their first eight opponents to under 60 points — Alabama being the exception — en route to 9-3 non-conference record. During OVC play, the Gamecocks held five opponents under that mark.

Fast forward to this year and the Gamecocks have held 12 of its opponents under the 60-point mark and eight of those performances resulted in victories for JSU.

There’s been a youth surge, too.

Six of 16 players listed on the roster are either true or redshirt-freshman. Ki-Ki Patterson, Gretchen Morrison, Tyler “Cocoa” Phelion and Tasha Magruder make up the senior class, while Leah Strain, Destiney Elliott, Brianna Perry and Rayven Pearson are redshirt or true juniors. Morgan Towells is the lone sophomore on the team.

Of those six freshmen, Taylor Hawks, Kiana Johnson, Jayla Walker are seeing significant playing time. Hawks, specially, has started the last 11 games for Pietri and is shooting 40 percent from the field with 50 assists to 35 turnovers and 11 steals for the year. Johnson, like Hawks, has started the last 11 JSU games and has scored in double-figures against Morehead State twice and against Murray State.

But no one player on the roster has had such a positive impact as Pearson, who has started the last 11 games. The Hazel Green native is averaging 9.1 points and 9.9 rebounds in 430 minutes of game action. She’s also blocked 22 shots, credited with 16 steals and 25 assists during the season.

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