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.