Two nights after playing solidly in a win, the Gamecocks pulled off a clunker, losing to Eastern Illinois 56-48 in front of an afternoon crowd at Pete Mathews Coliseum that have come to expect good things at home.
Instead, the loss snapped JSU’s six-game home win streak and 14-game streak against teams from the Ohio Valley Conference West. The Gamecocks (8-12, 2-3 OVC) are the last team to suffer a loss to a team from the other side since the league split into divisions last season.
“It’s the most disappointing that I’ve been in trying to develop consistency with the group,” JSU coach James Green said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who really don’t understand how to bring it every day and how it relates to the game; we’re constantly trying to get that in.
“After a while it becomes part of your character, how you fight in those situations to get yourself better, and every guy out there has to be a part of it. Even the guys who don’t play need to come every day and bring it to help us prepare. Everybody’s got a role and they have to be consistent in that role day-by-day.”
The inside players and team defense that played such a huge role in Thursday’s win over SIU-Edwardsville just weren’t there Saturday.
Jamal Hunter, who had a double-double and seven blocked shots Thursday, and his usual starting mate Nick Cook both were held scoreless. Joe Kuligoski, who has been starting while Cook rediscovers his intensity, also had no points.
The Gamecocks had zero offensive rebounds in the first half, while falling behind 29-18, and were outscored in the lane 30-18.
The Panthers (5-11, 2-3) dared JSU to shoot outside. The Gamecocks did, but didn’t make. They were only 4 of 25 from 3-point range in the game, while EIU shot 50 percent from the field barely looking at the arc.
Had the Gamecocks established themselves better inside early in the game Green is convinced the shots they took from the perimeter had a better chance of going down. As it was, there was no rhythm.
“When they come on your court and shoot 50 percent and you shoot 33, and they only shoot six 3s and you shoot 25 and they pound you on the backboards, they’re tougher than you,” Green said. “Before, we would get beat, but it wasn’t because teams were tougher than we were. Most of the times it was because they’d been more talented … but this one strictly came down to their toughness versus our toughness and they were a heck of a lot better at it than we were.”
The Gamecocks did manage to cut an 18-point deficit built on their previous shortcomings to four twice with more than seven minutes to play, but there wasn’t much positive beyond that.
Teraes Clemmons is the “energy guy” in the Gamecocks’ lineup, and he certainly gave them a spark in the second half. He scored all 12 of his points in the second half after finally entering the game, 11 during an eight-minute stretch that drew JSU within four with 7:44 to play. The Panthers then went on a 9-1 run to push their lead back into double digits.
The Gamecocks got within three with 34 seconds left, then missed three straight 3-pointers as EIU closed it out from the foul line.
“If we would have played the way we did in the comeback we would never have had the problem,” Clemmons said. “We just have to get back to doing what we do, like Coach Green’s philosophy. He’s recruited enough offensive players for it to be all right, we just have to give what he wants defensively.”
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.