JACKSONVILLE — With a near-capacity crowd in attendance at Pete Mathews Coliseum, the Jacksonville State men’s basketball team defeated Eastern Illinois 69-62 in its conference home-opener Thursday night.
That improved the Gamecocks to 3-0 in Ohio Valley Conference play for the first time since joining the league.
Jacksonville State coach Ray Harper downplayed the team’s best OVC start after the game: “We need to be 4-0 after Saturday. Obviously, last week was a good start to go get two on the road. If you’re going to have a chance to compete with Murray State, Belmont and Austin Peay, you’ve got to win at home.”
After sweeping the Nashville road trip with wins over OVC-power Belmont and Tennessee State in its first two games, the Gamecocks returned home for the start of a four-game homestand to defeat an EIU squad that started league-play 2-0.
Two back-to-back second-half runs defined the game Thursday. EIU used a 10-0 run to take a 49-44 lead after trailing for most of the second half. The Gamecocks answered immediately with a 13-0 spurt to take back the lead at 57-49.
The Panthers managed to rally within six, but clutch free throws and a basket on a long-ball thrown to Marlon Hunter helped the Gamecocks fend off EIU for the victory.
What to know
—The win gives JSU its first 3-0 start in league play since going 3-0 in Atlantic Sun games in 2002-03. It’s also the first time the Gamecocks have defeated EIU at home since a 63-45 victory on Jan. 26, 2012.
—Jason Burnell, who has been on fire recently for the Gamecocks, led JSU once again in scoring. The senior forward scored 18 on 3-for-5 from 3-point range and grabbed nine rebounds. Burnell was joined in double-figures by Marlon Hunter, who scored 15, and Detrick Mostella, who’s scored in double-digits in three straight games since coming back from an injury, had 12.
—JSU held Eastern Illinois sophomore Josiah Wallace, who had been averaging 25 points in OVC contests to 14. Ben Harvey also scored 14 for the Panthers.
—Harper on the crowd, which was listed at 2,275: “It was a great crowd tonight. I can’t thank the students enough for showing up like they did. If they’ll keep coming back in those numbers, we could have one of the best home-court advantages in the league.”
—Burnell on the atmosphere: “The crowd was great. I think it’s the best crowd we’ve had since I’ve been here. People will come see you if you keep winning, so we’ve just got to keep doing that.”
—The Gamecocks will continue their four-game home stand on Saturday with a game against Southern Illinois-Edwardsville at 4 p.m. The Cougars come into the game at 1-2 in the OVC, having lost against Tennessee Tech on Thursday night. JSU will play Belmont, who the Gamecocks beat 83-73 in Nashville to open conference play, on Jan. 17, then Tennessee Tech on Jan. 19, before hitting the road again.