JACKSONVILLE — Every child wants to make their parents proud, and Saturday was another opportunity for Ray Harper to do that.
As his mom looked on from the stands at Pete Mathews Coliseum, the second-year Gamecocks head coach led Jacksonville State to a 78-60 win over Southeast Missouri. After falling late to UT Martin just two nights earlier, the Gamecocks limited the Redhawks to their lowest scoring total this season and forced a season-high 17 turnovers. On the offensive end, JSU had five in double figures with Marlon Hunter leading the way with 22 points on 9-of-12 shooting.
Jamall Gregory added 12, while Jason Burnell and Malcolm Drumwright finished with 11 apiece. Christian Cunningham finished with his sixth double-double of the season as the junior forward had 10 points and 15 rebounds.
“Anytime you can bounce back with, probably, your largest margin of victory in a long time, it’s good,” Harper said. “Everything has been grinded out for a while, so it’s good to be able to come in here and get a win.
“Maybe we can keep the confidence going, because it’s about building momentum and playing your best basketball in three or four weeks.”
If this is the spark to re-ignite a sputtering Jacksonville State men’s basketball team, then the turning moment came with 9:41 remaining in the first half when Hunter knocked down a jumper off a Cam Martin assist to answer a Ray Howalski 3-point basket that cut the Gamecocks’ lead to one.
After that basket, the Jacksonville State defense forced a missed 3-point attempt by Milos Vranes then back-to-back turnovers by Vranes. This led to Gregory knocked down a 3-point shot, and Cunningham made a layup to extend the Gamecocks’ lead back to eight.
A pair of free throws by Cunningham with 2:29 remaining in the first half gave Jacksonville State (16-7, 7-3) a double-digit lead.
SEMO (10-13, 4-6) never got its deficit to single digits at any point during the second half.
“This team right here, that averages 80 points, we held them to 60 tonight, so I think we did real good tonight to hold them below that,” Hunter said. “We had the mind set of being disciplined and running what Coach Harper said.
“We are pushing, and we are working, so we just need to put two halves together and we will be ready and back in March Madness.”
Denzel Mahoney led SEMO with 17 points, including three 3-point baskets. Justin Carpenter was the lone additional Redhawk in double figures as he finished with 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting.