The Gamecocks claimed their first win of the season, snapping the second-longest active losing streak in Division I women’s basketball in the process, with a satisfying 60-57 victory over Southeast Missouri at Pete Mathews Coliseum.
“It’s pretty exciting in there,” senior Danielle Vaughn said of the postgame celebration.
“It was a great atmosphere to see all our teammates happy,” sophomore post Miranda Cantrell added.
The Gamecocks (1-26, 1-14 OVC) were facing the possibility of becoming JSU’s first winless team since the school started keeping records on a regular basis in 1948. If it didn’t happen Saturday, they had only one game left.
Instead, they ended a season of futility and left Weber State (0-25) of the Big Sky Conference as the last winless team in Division I women’s basketball this season. In addition, they eliminated the Redhawks (10-17, 4-10) from OVC Tournament consideration.
The Gamecocks had lost 36 games in a row since beating Austin Peay on a 3-pointer at the buzzer on Jan. 14, 2012, some of them close, some by wide margins. Although they had been in several games along the way, they seemingly never could find a way to finish. They had lost 20 in a row at home and 24 straight in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Now the streak is 1.
“You know, right now my belly’s going, ‘Yes, yes, yes,’” JSU coach Annette Watts said. “But more so for my two seniors (Vaughn and Amanda McCarthy). I was afraid they were going to forget how it felt. I was afraid I was going to forget how it felt — and it feels so good, especially when your kids play well against a team who plays really hard.”
Unlike the win at Peay, this one didn’t come on some answered prayer. The Gamecocks had control of this game most of the night and held together through SEMO’s late pressure to rally.
The Gamecocks scored 20 points off the 15 turnovers created by their last two days of constant defensive focus, and they outscored the smaller Redhawks 26-14 in the paint. They trailed only once — 2-0 — led by nine at halftime and by as many as 12 in the second half.
“We did things tonight we taught and taught and taught,” Watts said, “and tonight might have been the first night we’ve done them for 40 minutes. We scrapped and we fought and we made incredibly good decisions. I’m so proud of them.”
SEMO turned up its defensive pressure with about 12 minutes left and battled back to tie the game at 57 on Allyson Bradshaw’s 3-pointer with 35.6 seconds to play.
It was just about that point a JSU student supporter began encouraging the crowd behind the press table and the pep band to rush the floor when the Gamecocks pulled it out. The Gamecocks pulled it out, but there was no mad dash when it was over.
The players gathered at midcourt, then made their way to the dressing room where cupcakes and good times awaited.
“To finally get a win, it’s exciting,” Cantrell said. “It feels like this season wasn’t a waste. We were going to get it. We just had to keep pushing and it would come.”
The Gamecocks locked it up with three single free throws in the final 20 seconds — Candace Morton at 17.7, Cantrell at 14.2 and freshman Destany McLin’s clincher at 1.7.
Cantrell and McLin led the Gamecocks in scoring with 15 points each; for McLin, it was a career high. Vaughn had a double-double in her 100th career game and final one at home in a JSU uniform (10 points, 11 rebounds).
SEMO’s Connor King rebounded Morton’s missed free throw with 17.7 left but fell out of bounds with it, allowing the Gamecocks to maintain possession. Cantrell was fouled shortly after taking Morton’s inbounds pass and made the second of her two shots.
The Redhawks still had a chance to break JSU’s heart or at least send the game into overtime. They brought the ball into the frontcourt and got the ball in Bradshaw’s hands, but with the clock winding down, Dashauna Truss cut off the SEMO guard’s drive in the lane. McLin came up with the loose ball and was fouled.
“It was just help defense,” Truss said. “I had Candace’s back on that play. She was trailing No. 11 the whole time. We tried not to get 11 (free) because she kept hitting 3s. We did what we had to do to have our teammates’ back on that possession. I wanted to get that win real bad. I’ve never been on a team with a zero record.”
And she still hasn’t.
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @almusky_star.