JACKSONVILLE — With less than a minute to go and the game essentially salted away, Jacksonville State's Chloe Long found herself open at the top of the circle.
She launched an 18-footer … which missed everything. As she ran to the other end she flashed a big smile. On a night like this one, she could afford to have a little fun at a bad shot.
After all, pretty much everything else went right for her as she played a major role in JSU's 68-51 home win over Murray State on Thursday. She scored a season-high 13 points, tied a season high with 12 rebounds and blocked a season-high four shots.
The night continued a recent upswing for Long, who had six points, 12 rebounds and two steals in a win at Eastern Kentucky five days earlier.
"She has the highest level of understanding of what we want done, particularly defensively," said JSU coach Rick Pietri, whose team is 6-8 overall and 2-1 in the OVC. "She understands offensively, too, but particularly defensively, her understanding is really high. Higher than anybody we have in the post. I can usually count on her to make all the right decisions.
"I do think, however, that she has stepped up her game in the last week. The numbers bear it out."
It's to the point that Pietri doesn't take her off the floor often. She averages 29.2 minutes a game, and only 11 others in the Ohio Valley Conference play more than that. She played 37 minutes against Eastern Kentucky and 32 against Murray State on Thursday.
Asked if she gets tired, Long said she does sometimes.
"But, I just keep on fighting," said Long, a 6-foot-1 forward and a fifth-year senior. "If I need a break, I just ask Coach to take me out for a quick second and I can get right back in."
As for her contribution, Pietri said, "The stat line doesn't just say what she brings to us."
Even so, he wouldn't mind seeing her score more as she did Thursday. She averages 4.8 points a game.
"Hopefully, with the success she had today and the fact that we won, she'll come to the understanding that it's OK for her to score, too," Pietri said.
Long said she's always been a player who puts defense, rebounding and passing first.
"I just like to get my teammates involved," she said. "I feel like I see other people who have good looks, so I just give it to them."
Long wasn't the only person to pay close attention to defense Thursday. Leading scorer Destiney Elliott missed her second straight game because of an undisclosed medical issue, but her teammates made up for it with two of their best defensive efforts of the season. After allowing Eastern Kentucky a season-low 33 points, JSU allowed only 51 to Murray State.
"We take pride in our defense," junior guard Taylor Hawks said. "Coach keeps telling us every practice to get after it, defend first and score later."
Three to know
—Murray State guard Macey Turley entered the game ranked second in the OVC in scoring (18.2 points) and first in assists (4.8). With JSU's Kiana Johnson, Jayla Walker and Hawks shadowing her at various times, Turley had 15 points and two assists Thursday. She made only 4 of 17 from the field.
—Hawks poured in 21 points as she made three 3-pointers out of the four she tried. She also grabbed seven rebounds.
—Yamia Johnson had nine points on a trio of 3-pointers. Jessie Day played 34 minutes and grabbed 10 rebounds to go with her four points. Kiana Johnson had eight points.
—Hawks on the defense against Turley: "We knew she was going to get hers. We just tried to make it difficult for her. K.J. and Jayla really did a great job showing her their long arms and just trying to get in her path."
—Hawks on winning two of three OVC games after winning only four of 11 non-conference contests: "It feels real good because we worked so hard for it. We didn't have the best non-conference like we wanted so we just came in and proved we could get it done."
—JSU will play at home Saturday at 1:45 p.m. against Austin Peay.