JSU basketball teaser

Pete Mathews Coliseum on the JSU campus. Photo by Stephen Gross / The Anniston Star.

JACKSONVILLE -- With Jacksonville State clinging to a one-point lead and less than two minutes left in an exhausting Ohio Valley Conference matchup, Gretchen Morrison didn’t bother with thinking when she caught the ball in front of her team’s bench.

The senior simply fired up the 3-pointer. It’s a good thing it swished through the basket, because no teammate was down the floor yet to rebound.

Morrison’s fastbreak 3-pointer fast broke Southeast Missouri in the Gamecocks’ 53-45 win Saturday afternoon.

“That was a real punch in the gut when Gretchen made that 3 in the right corner,” JSU coach Rick Pietri said, who often says the 3-pointer has the same effect in women’s basketball as the dunk does in the men’s game.

Jacksonville State (13-8, 7-3 OVC) had led almost the whole way, but SEMO (10-12, 5-5) had trimmed the lead to one and had the ball. Ashton Luttrull missed a 3-pointer, which JSU’s Rayven Pearson pulled down. She quickly got the ball to point guard Taylor Hawks, who saw Morrison beating the defense down the court.

Hawks hit Morrison with a perfect pass about chest-high, which allowed her to catch and launch her 3-pointer almost all in one motion.

Not only did it give Jacksonville State a 49-45 lead, it gave the crowd of 871 a chance to stand up and sound like a lot more than 871 people.

“I felt the energy,” Morrison said afterward, smiling. “That helps everybody as we were going back to play defense.”

After that, JSU didn’t allow another point until a last-gasp 3-pointer by Luttrull after the Gamecocks already had taken control.

Hawks led JSU with 13 points, while Tyler Phelion added eight. Morrison and Kiana Johnson each had seven.

But defense was the mark of the day for JSU, which has passed Belmont to lead the league by allowing 57.6 points a game in OVC games.

On Thursday, the Gamecocks lost 61-57 in overtime to Tennessee-Martin, which was scoring more than 73 points a game in league action, but UTM had only 49 in regulation.

SEMO entered averaging 67.4 points a game against conference opponents. This marked the Redhawks’ worst offensive performance against an OVC team all season.

While saying he wants a better offensive showing from his players, Pietri added that he can’t deny how they’ve performed defensively.

“Our kids haven’t been good defensively -- they’ve been great,” Pietri said.

SEMO’s Teisa Thompson (3 of 13 field goals) and Adrianna Murphy (2 of 15) had their worst shooting games of the season. JSU’s Kiana Johnson, Ki-Ki Patterson and Morgan Towells shadowed Thompson, and Hawks did the majority of the work against Murphy, with plenty of help from the Gamecocks’ post players, who provided support when Murphy tried to erase Hawks by using a teammate’s screen.

For Pietri, he was especially pleased that his team bounced back so well after Thursday’s loss to Tennessee-Martin, which got a desperation 3-pointer to tie it in regulation before winning in overtime.

Morrison said even with the tough defeat, she and her teammates had an eye on remaining in the conference race. Belmont (9-1) leads, while SIU-Edwardsville (8-2) is second, followed by JSU (7-3) in third place.

“We got together as a team and wanted to bring a positive attitude to practice,” she said. “We followed through and had a good practice Friday. We got everything done we needed to. We had a good shootaround (Saturday) before the game.

“We knew this game was so important for the conference.”

Sports Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.