OVC Tournament Bound Gamecock Women Knock Off Belmont In OT
JACKSONVILLE — Progress.
It was all anyone could hope for in Rick Pietri’s first year as head coach of Jacksonville State’s women’s basketball team and it was all anyone witnessed over the course of this season.
The same Gamecocks who won only once last season entered Saturday’s game with Belmont bound for this year’s Ohio Vally Conference tournament for the first time since 2011. They take on Southern Illinois Edwardsville in the first round at 2 p.m. Wednesday in Nashville. But, they were still hungry for one more win.
In their first meeting in Nashville, Belmont handed the Gamecocks their worst loss of the season by soundly defeating them 92-50. The Gamecocks knew getting one more win before the tournament would not be easy– and it wasn’t. Even so, JSU came out on top Saturday with a 71-69 win in overtime.
“I’ve got a lot of pride in that group and the progress they’ve made,” Pietri said. “When you factor where we were in August, where we were on the first day of practice when we only had seven healthy bodies at practice, to where we were on new year’s morning, to where we are now, It’s just an incredible progression.”
The Gamecocks (12-17, 8-8 in the OVC) looked to be on their way to a 59-56 win with under a minute to go. Belmont (13-16, 10-6) guard Kattie Carroll took advantage of JSU’s defensive mishap and tied the game with a 3-pointer with just 15 seconds remaining.
Destany McLin tried to give the Gamecocks the lead in the final seconds but her efforts fell short and the Gamecocks had to play five more minutes. Overtime was a different story. She scored nine of her career high 31 points. She drove the length of the court for her final basket. It gave JSU a two point lead with eight seconds to play.
“I just wanted it,” she said. “We got into the tournament a couple days ago, but before then it was banking on us winning this game. We did not want anyone to think we don’t have to win this game. We wanted to show them we weren’t just going to chill after making it. It shows we weren’t just going to give up just because we were in. We still have fight in us.
Added Pietri: “Taking a look at our roster and theirs, I figured the one matchup that we had that was to our benefit was McLin on whoever they would have covering her. It turned out that worked out for us.”
But, the game was not over. Belmont still had eight seconds to tie or possibly even win the game. Bruins’ forward Jordyn Luffman drove into the paint for a layup to tie the game as time expired. But, the outstretched arms of JSU forward Miranda Cantrell prevented the ball from hitting anything but the bottom of the goal.
“I just saw her (Luffman) come free,” Cantrell said, who finished with eight points and seven rebounds. “So, I just took her and tried to cut her off. The whole time I was thinking ‘don’t foul, don’t foul.’ When she shot it, I got the rebound. I looked at Candace (Morton) and all I saw was her face. It was like ‘oh my God, we just won!'”
The turning point in the season is generally considered to be the 42 point loss at Belmont on Jan. 6. Since that date, the Gamecocks have gone 8-4 in the and earned the No. 6 seed in the conference tournament.
After a six-point loss to Mercer in December, McLin told Gamecock Illustrated,
“I can put it this way: Once we do start winning, and we get the feel for it, I guarantee you we’re going to continue to do it.”
After Saturday’s win, she reflected on that guarantee.
“We always knew that we were going to comeback,” she said. “We worked entirely too hard this season to turn this program around as a group, as a whole, coaches and all. So we knew it was coming. Our time was coming.”