NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Jacksonville State men’s basketball team earned its first Ohio Valley Conference Championship title, and punched its ticket to the NCAA Tournament, on Saturday with a 66-55 win over UT Martin at Nashville’s Municipal Auditorium.
Junior Malcolm Drumwright was named Tournament MVP and received All-Tournament honors, and senior Greg Tucker was named All-Tournament. Drumwright totaled 13 points, Tucker contributed 14 and senior Erik Durham knocked down a team-best 17.
On the defensive side, sophomore Christian Cunningham pulled down 11 rebounds, and five of junior Norbertas Giga’s six boards came on the defensive glass.
Chosen to finish 12th in the OVC preseason poll, first-year head coach Ray Harper led the Gamecocks to a 10.5-game improvement upon last season’s 8-23 overall finish. It is just the second 20-win season in Jacksonville State’s Division I history, and marks the first time the program will compete in the NCAA Tournament.
The Gamecocks’ defense held the Skyhawks to a 35.2 shooting percentage and forced 15 turnovers. Aside from an eight-point run to begin the second half, UT Martin was not allowed within six points of the pace for the remainder of the contest.
Tucker owned the first period with a half-best 14 points on five field goals. The senior was 5-for-11 from the floor and 2-for-6 from long range to help the Gamecocks to a 36-23 lead at the break. Drumwright and Durham pitched in eight each with a couple of three-pointers, as well.
Despite three lead changes in the first half, the Gamecocks did not trail past the 13:44 mark. Freshman guard Tyrik Edwards kept the momentum in Jacksonville State’s favor with a strong drive and scoop to the basket as time expired in the opening period. The 13-point advantage was the largest of the stanza.
Durham scored nine in the second half to lead JSU shooters. The senior was 3-for-4 from the floor and hit one three-pointer. Martin’s Matthew Butler and Jacolby Mobley combined to score 23 of the Skyhawks’ 32 points in the second, but it was not enough to overcome the Gamecocks’ 13-point advantage from the first.
Jacksonville State becomes the first athletic program to win both the OVC Football Championship and OVC Men’s Basketball Championship in the same academic year since Murray State accomplished the feat in 1996-97.
The Gamecocks will learn their NCAA Tournament destination Sunday, March 12 during the Selection Sunday 2017 selection show. The show will stream live on NCAA.com and will broadcast nationally. Viewing party information will be announced at a later date.
For more information on the JSU men’s basketball team, follow the Gamecocks on Twitter (@JSU_MBB). For more on all Gamecocks sports teams, follow the official social media accounts of JSU Athletics on Twitter (@JSUGamecocks), Facebook (Facebook.com/JSUGamecocks), Instagram (@JSUGamecocks) and Snapchat (@JSUGamecocks).