A fun two weeks, indeed.
A fun four games, indeed.
It was fun believing that five was possible, because the Gamecocks beat Tennessee Tech on the road to start their OVC winning streak and had Tech at home Saturday.
But JSU basketball successes in the OVC era are fleeting, and a basketball league reclaimed itself Saturday. Tech shot 59 percent from the floor and controlled the game more than the 76-68 score showed, turning the focus from JSU’s all-things-relative streak to the big picture.
JSU basketball still struggles to get bigger in that picture.
The fact that JSU’s longest-ever conference winning streak in the OVC era is four games shows that the basketball program still struggles to find footing after a conference move that clearly benefitted football and baseball more.
One would think better is possible for a program that made five NCAA Elite Eights and two Final Fours with one national title in Division II. As Division I conferences go, the OVC ain’t the ACC.
The OVC typically only gets its champion in the NCAA Tournament.
But it is a basketball league, and JSU is a football-baseball school. At least, those are the sports that have carried some measure of success from Division II to Division I, and those sports have won conference titles since JSU moved to the OVC in 2003.
Those sports have played in NCAA Tournaments.
In men’s basketball, JSU has qualified for the OVC Tournament just three times in eight years and never made it past the second round. Never mind sniffing the NCAA Tournament.
The Gamecocks have just two winning seasons since joining the OVC. They have more seasons (three) with seven or fewer victories.
That’s why a four-game OVC winning streak stood out.
Hey, progress is progress, and JSU coach James Green sees something for which to hope.
“It gives us something to build on,” he said. “I think it gives this team something they can hang their hat on, in terms of having some confidence that we can go out and compete with teams in this league.”
Credit where credit is due. JSU not only won four OVC games in a row, but it won two of them on the road.
The streak coincided with the departures of Stephen Hall, the team’s only senior, and Frankie Bougher. Hall was dismissed, and Bougher quit.
Looking ahead, the Gamecocks have played themselves solidly into the No. 8 spot in the OVC standings, meaning they would make the league tourney if the season ended today.
At 5-7 in OVC play with four league games to play, they can still finish with a winning conference record. That’s only happened once (2005-06) in JSU’s OVC era.
Picture JSU winning eight of its final nine conference games. All it would require is another four-game conference winning streak.
The Gamecocks would have to beat Morehead State and Southeast Missouri, two teams that beat them earlier this season. They’d have to beat Morehead State and Tennessee State on the road.
Seems unlikely, but funny thing about breakthrough winning streaks. They make things seem more possible.
“With a lot of guys coming back, at least they can beat their own record at some point,” Green said. “Obviously, it would be very difficult this year, but it could happen this year.
“If not, then it gives us something to have us a target in the future, in terms of trying to put games together.”
In the OVC era for JSU men’s basketball, that’s progress.
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.