JACKSONVILLE — Rick Pietri says he can't take credit. He says that he delivered no stirring, inspiring words at halftime that motivated his Jacksonville State women's basketball team to blitz through Eastern Illinois in the second half.
The Gamecocks were tied at halftime but scored on their first six possessions after the break and sailed to a78-49 win.
After intermission, JSU poured in the first 17 points and wound up outscoring EIU 31-4 in the third quarter. What looked like a tough, intense battle to the finish turned into one of those where everyone gets to relax and smile as the final minutes tick off the clock.
"It's not like I did or said anything different at halftime," Pietri said. "It was not one of those halftime speeches that you should record and use years later. We were very matter of fact and told them we were in for a fight."
It especially helped that Jacksonville State found its range from beyond the 3-point arc. JSU ranks next-to-last in the Ohio Valley Conference in 3-point percentage, with the Gamecocks making about 5.5 from the arc a game.
In the third quarter alone, JSU made six. Taylor Hawks made a trey on the Gamecocks' first possession, and Yamia Johnson made another right after that. Later in the period, Johnson made a 3-pointer, drew a foul and sank the free throw. On the next possession, shooting in the same spot on the floor, she made another trey.
"We were getting the same shots that we were getting in the first half," Pietri said. "They were just going in. And, when we made our shots, that allowed us to get into our pressure (defense). Once we got into our pressure, that disrupted them."
What to know
—JuToreyia Willis, a 5-foot-11 freshman guard, came off the bench to score a team-high 15 points. She also grabbed three rebounds and blocked two shots as Pietri said she "had her best game of her college basketball career."
—Johnson finished with 14 points, including 10 in the third period, and Taylor Hawks added 13 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals.
—Destiney Elliott managed eight points, but she contributed heavily during an important first quarter sequence when EIU was taking control. A little more than four minutes into the game, the Panthers led 15-4, but Elliott drove through the EIU zone for a layup, sank two free throws on the next possession, and then topped it off with a 3-pointer. That started JSU on an 18-0 run.
—The game drew an announced attendance of 672, which is a season high for JSU. It helped that halftime entertainment was provided by Rong Niu, who performs as "Red Panda." She flips bowls onto her head with her feet, while riding a tall unicycle.
—Hawks on wanting to help jump start her team defensively and offensively, including that 3-pointer to start the second half: "It starts with me, the point guard, the floor general. It starts with me, so I know once I hit that shot, we've got some momentum."
—Hawks on JSU's level of play in the second half: "It starts on the defensive end, and that's how we got our energy started."
—Jacksonville State is now 7-6, including 2-1 in the OVC. EIU is 7-7, 1-2. The Gamecocks will host Southern Illinois-Edwardsville (6-8, 1-2) on Saturday at 2 p.m. Tennessee Tech is 3-0 in the league, but nobody else is unbeaten. Five teams are tied for second at 2-1, including Belmont, which lost to Tennessee Tech this past Saturday. That was Belmont's first league loss since 2016 and broke a 47-game OVC win streak.