JACKSONVILLE — There’s no place like home, right?
Ray Harper and the Jacksonville State men’s basketball team roll into Thursday night’s matchup with Tennessee Tech with a 17-8 record. Of 25 total games, the Gamecocks are a 10-3 inside Pete Mathews Coliseum, which includes a 76-71 win over conference power Murray State on Jan. 11.
Tonight’s Ohio Valley Conference matchup at 8 against Tennessee Tech is being billed by the school as “Student Government Association Greek/Student Organization Night.” It’s the first home game for JSU since a 78-60 victory over Southeast Missouri on Jan. 27. The game will be the first of two for JSU to be broadcasted nationally on ESPNU this month, in addition to a JSU/Belmont game Feb. 22.
“I hope we have a good atmosphere and I hope we play well,” Harper said. “It’s a big game.”
It’s a big game because Jacksonville State and Tennessee Tech come into the game with tied for fourth in the league with identical 8-4 conference records, which is good enough for a fourth-place tie between the two. Only the top eight teams in the standings get into the postseason conference tournament and JSU is looking to turn around its luck after dropping a 75-67 game to SIUE (8-15, 4-8) last Saturday.
“I think it’s going to take discipline, attention to details and total focus for 40 minutes to earn the win tomorrow night,” Harper said. “It’s two teams which are 8-4 so there’s a lot on the line with six (games) left to go. It’s a big game for both teams.”
A key factor needed for Harper if the Gamecocks want to earn the victory will be the play of senior guard Malcolm Drumwright and center Norbertas Giga.
After a five-game span from Jan. 11-25 in which Drumwright scored 20 or more points four times, he’s had scoring outputs of 11, 5 and 11 on 9-of-25 shooting, including 6 of 13 from behind the 3-point arc. Giga, after scoring in double figures in five of the season’s first six games, has reached the double-digit mark in only six of the last 19, including four times in conference play.
“Malcolm and (Giga) need to step up,” Harper said. “There’s six games to go, and they are the seniors and need to lead the way as we go down the stretch. They’re both fully capable and I have full confidence in both of those guys to do that as we go down the home stretch.”
One player who is surely to be a focus for Tennessee Tech coaches is Jason Burnell. The first-year Gamecock is averaging 11.5 points and 6.1 rebounds this season. He has scored in double figures in all but two OVC games this year and recorded his first double with a 12-point, 10-rebound performance against the Cougars last weekend.