There were some elements of Jacksonville State’s 72-69 women’s basketball loss to Jacksonville (Fla.) University on Sunday to give the Gamecocks reason to believe they’re close to turning the corner. But other elements remained that indicate that corner is still up the block.
In the positive column, the Gamecocks played their closest game of the season, cut their turnovers to a season-low 19, placed four scorers in double figures and held the Dolphins’ best player to 10 points.
In the negative column, they still have trouble closing halves and games. It was the third contest in a row they let slip a game they either led or had tied with nine minutes or less to play.
“What a young team has to learn how to do is just be consistent, and you saw that in the game,” JSU coach Annette Watts said. “We’ll play well and then we’ll tank, and then we’ll play well and then we’ll tank. We do the same thing in practice. Those (positive elements) you said, we’re just now beginning to get consistent in.”
The last three games the Gamecocks have had trouble finishing. They were outscored 19-7 in the final 5:55 of a 12-point loss at Mercer, were outscored 13-2 in the final six minutes in Monday’s three-point loss to Samford and gave up a 16-4 flurry late in the second half and had to play catch-up the rest of the game.
Briana Morrow led the Gamecocks with 15 points and 18 rebounds, 12 of which came on the offensive end. Freshman guard Destany McLin had 11 points and nine rebounds. Amanda McCartha scored 11 points and Miranda Cantrell had 10.
It was a game of runs. In the first half, the Gamecocks fell behind 14-3, then went on a 16-2 run to take the lead. The Dolphins (3-2) came back with an 8-0 run to retake the lead, but JSU scored the next 11 points to take a six-point lead. JU closed the half with a 9-0 run over the final 2:11 to grab a 35-30 halftime lead.
The Gamecocks opened the second half with a 12-3 run to retake the lead. Cantrell, Morrow and McLin each scored six in the flurry. They led 50-48 when the Dolphins went on the 16-4 run that put them ahead for keeps. Queen Alford scored 10 of her JU-high 13 points in the run.
“We can’t get down with three or four minutes left to go by 10,” Watts said. “And we were down by 10, but if you look at that we were down by 10 and cut it back to three, and we have not been able to do that.
“We’re just having trouble finishing right now. We’re five games in – well, you can’t really count the Alabama game – but we’re getting better every game. We still don’t understand what it takes to win games. It’s the age. They’ve forgotten how hard it was to win.”
Two free throws by McCarthy with 38.9 seconds left got JSU within 70-67 and the Gamecocks forced a turnover for a chance at a game-tying 3-pointer, but missed two shots.
On the second shot, freshman Destiny James hit her right knee hard on the floor and had to be helped off. She was limping noticeably coming out of the dressing room, but team officials hope it’s only a minor setback.
The Gamecocks already are missing senior post Danielle Vaughn (knee) and sophomore guard Candace Morton (ankle) with injuries.
Single free throws by Briona Brown and Maggie Wilson pushed the Dolphins’ lead to 72-67 and McCarthy hit two free throws with two seconds left for the final margin.
“It’s showing progress,” Morrow said. “Last year we got down and we never came back. We’d yell and we’d scream, and this year we keep coming back. We keep picking each other up.
“The fact we can still play hard even though we’re down shows a whole lot of maturity. We knocked down tough shots when we needed them (Sunday) even though we didn’t finish out. We’d pick each other up and start to come back. It’s giving us good hope for the future. Next year, I believe nobody is going to beat us in the conference.”
Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @almusky_star.