Jacksonville State's Morton having fun this season
by Jordan Smith
Jan 17, 2014 | 1500 views |  0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
JSU’s Candace Morton is averaging 17.4 points per game. (Photo by Trent Penny)
JSU’s Candace Morton is averaging 17.4 points per game. (Photo by Trent Penny)
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JACKSONVILLE — Jacksonville State’s Candace Morton is doing what she always does this time of year.

A star guard for the Gamecocks’ women’s basketball team, she is putting on a uniform, lacing up her shoes and dribbling to a court.

This season, however, she is bringing something with her she has not had while at Jacksonville State — a smile.

“It’s a lot more fun,” Morton said, “because this year there’s a lot more positive motivation. Even in practice, we find a way to have fun on the court.”

It helps that JSU is winning more than in the past. Heading into Saturday’s game at Eastern Kentucky, the Gamecocks are 6-13 and on a two-game win streak. Last year, JSU went 1-27, and the previous season, Morton’s freshman year, the record wasn’t much better at 4-25.

One of the ways the Gamecocks have fun happens as soon as practice begins. During their layup series drill, the coaches attempt to block the players’ layup attempts.

“We’re calling out the coaches,” Morton said. “C’mon! C’mon! Come here, coach! It’s just little things making situations fun. It’s a happier and better environment to come to practice because we all feel like we’re getting better. It’s finally starting to show on the floor.”

The Gamecocks earned their sixth win of the season Monday against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, and Morton, a three-year starter, led the team in scoring with 17 points. That performance was on par with her season average of 17.4 points a game.

The 5-foot-8 Morton is an offensive force as a 3-point shooter and as someone who isn’t afraid to mix it up and draw fouls. She paces the team in free throws made (106) and attempted (144). Nobody else is close.

JSU head coach Rick Pietri said he believes her production makes her the ideal leader for the Gamecocks.

“One of the things that can and does assist with your ability to lead is when you produce,” Pietri said. “It’s hard to lead when you’re not producing. It’s difficult to do. But when you’re producing, and you’re already demonstrating some leadership characteristics, that production gives you some credibility.”

A 6-13 record would not scream success in ordinary situations. But when compared to the 1-27 record from a year ago, it makes this an extraordinary situation. The foundation is being laid to make this program one to be reckoned with.

“We have the pieces,” Morton said. “Now, we’re getting the positive attitudes and the motivation. Just in the past week we’ve turned it around. You can only imagine us going up from here.”

The Gamecocks won both of their games in the last week giving them a 2-4 record in the Ohio Valley Conference. With 10 games remaining, their hopes of earning a berth in the conference tournament in March are still alive.

Morton said that would be an “awesome” experience, “especially for the juniors.”

“We haven’t been to the tournament since we’ve been here,” she said with a smile. “Being able to go to the tournament — not just going to the tournament and getting beat in the first round — we want to the tournament and stay in for a while. That’s what we’re working towards.”
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