Daniel Mayes, Sports Editor
EVANSVILLE, Ind. —What a game. What a comeback. For Jacksonville State, what a heartbreak.
Even after a furious 20-point second half comeback for the Gamecocks, JSU fell to Murray State 70-63 in the Ohio Valley Tournament semifinals to end their season.
“These kids fought and battled right to the bitter end,” said Coach Harper.
Early on, everything went Murray’s way.
The Racers were scorching hot to begin the game. They raced out to an advantage by knocking down their first four three-point attempts and 10 of their first 13 overall.
After an 11-0 run by the Racers ending at the 9:59 mark of the first, Murray State held a 14-point lead at 27-13, and the crowd, which was overwhelmingly pro-Racer, became deafening.
The Gamecock offense started to catch up with the Racers, however, and the two teams traded baskets for the remainder of the opening period, and the margin stood at 37-25 at the half.
The Gamecocks came out of the locker room looking to cut into the deficit, but instead, it was Murray State that entered the second half on fire.
After a Johnathan Stark three with 13:48 remaining, the Racer lead reached 20, and it looked like the Gamecocks would be run right out of the Ford Center.
Jacksonville State had been through too much this season to go quietly, however.
A dunk by Jacara Cross, a three from Jamall Gregory and another slam from Christian Cunningham, and, suddenly, the Gamecocks were clawing their way back into the game.
The run reached 13-0, cutting the deficit to 51-44, before the Racers finally answered. Then the Gamecocks just kept coming.
With 4:19 left, the JSU comeback was complete. Jason Burnell spun past a defender in the post and laid it in to tie the game at 60-60. The Gamecocks even took a lead at 63-62 with 2:41 left.
If this were a movie, the Gamecocks would have finished off the miraculous comeback and gotten the win. But, sadly for the smattering of JSU fans in attendance, it wasn’t to be.
Stark hit yet another three, then two free throws, then a Shaq Buchanan tip-in gave the Racers a six-point lead with 32 seconds left that sealed it. After the Gamecocks took their lead, Murray State scored the final eight points of the game to win it 70-63.
Cunningham, Gregory and Marlon Hunter, who were the driving force behind JSU’s comeback run, finished with 16, 15 and 13 respectively.
Senior captain Malcolm Drumwright, who scored the very first points of the game on a three, was held scoreless the rest of the way on 1-10 shooting in the final game of a spectacular career in a JSU uniform. The game was also the final for Norbertas Giga, who has also been an instrumental part of JSU basketball in the last two seasons.
“These two seniors have done things in the last two years that haven’t been done [at Jacksonville State],” said Harper after the game.
Drumwright and Giga saw Jax State go from OVC basement dwellers to winning 20 games in each of their final two seasons, including the school’s first OVC title last year.
The Gamecocks close the season with a 21-12 overall, a new Division I program wins record.