In one of the rare times in the series, the Gamecocks will face the tradition-rich program with the better record of the two teams — by 7.5 games.
The Gamecocks start the second half of their Ohio Valley Conference season 12-7 overall (4-4 in the OVC), while Peay is 5-15 and fourth in the OVC West (1-5). The Governors have lost three in a row, 11 of their last 12 and, amazingly, have not won a true road game this year (0-7).
But despite that disparity, JSU coach James Green isn’t taking anything for granted. After all, the last three games in the series (and four of the last six) have been decided by five points or fewer — and the Gamecocks have won only one of them.
“Coaches go a lot of different ways when they see that,” Green said. “That can be a positive for them or it could be a positive for us, depending on their mindset and our mindset.
“Sometimes teams are on the verge of getting it going. I’m sure what’s on their mind is, ‘Hey, Jacksonville State traditionally has been a game that we win; this is where we need to get it going.’ We’re sitting here thinking we started well but we’ve got to win some more games to say that we’ve had success, and this is a game on our home court. We need to go out and perform well and we haven’t performed great.
“If I was an oddsmaker, I wouldn’t give odds either way on this game.”
The odds of that happening are unlikely. At least one online gambling service has installed the Gamecocks as an 11-point favorite.
The season records may be on JSU’s side, but history hasn’t been kind to the Gamecocks.
Before beating Peay in the OVC Tournament last year, the Gamecocks had lost the previous 11 meetings between the teams and were 1-17 in the series.
Only once have they been the only team in the game with a winning record — 2003 — and Peay won that at JSU 76-58.
Actually, this is only the third time in the series JSU has had a winning record going into the game; Peay won the previous two.
It’s the fourth time the Gamecocks have had more wins than Peay entering the game; the Govs won two of the previous three.
And it’s the fifth time Peay has gone in with a losing record; it has won three of the previous four.
“I think we had the right mindset when we played at their place last year, one that we can compete and win this game,” Green sad. “Probably where we are and they are in terms of overall program, we want to say we want to get to the next level and they want to say we can’t let them get to the next level. ... I would say the team that makes themselves have the most breaks will win that game.”
But it has been an odd year for the Govs.
They have three scorers averaging in double figures — including two of the league’s top 12 — but they are last in the league in both overall turnover margin and rebounding margin during league play. Travis Betran is averaging 17.5 points a game (21.3 in OVC games), Anthony Campbell 14.3 (12.5 OVC) and Will Triggs 12.4 (16.7 OVC), but they’ve also accounted for nearly half the team’s turnovers.
With 11 regular-season games left, the Govs are five losses away from posting back-to-back 20-loss seasons for the first time in school history.
Coach Dave Loos often has remarked how his team lacks “basketball IQ.”
“We don’t have the focus; we don’t have the discipline, the determination, swagger, whatever you want to call it,” Loos recently told the hometown Leaf-Chronicle. “We’ve had a hard time maintaining that, not just on the game floor, (but) on the practice floor.”
Green can feel his pain. The Gamecocks got off to a 10-3 start in the 2012 portion of the schedule, but since the calendar turned the page they are 2-4, and in all the losses — albeit to the strongest teams in their division — Green or the players have lamented their own lack of readiness or focus.
And now their defensive posture has become challenged with the loss of Darion Rackley, whose fractured right thumb likely will keep him out the rest of the season.
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.