On Monday, JSU hosted the Martin Methodist Redhawks in their final exhibition game before the regular season begins. The Gamecocks started off slow and with under seven minutes to play until halftime trailed their NAIA opponent 20-18.
Less than a minute later Brian Williams was fouled on a made three-pointer and converted the rare four-point play to give Jax State a 22-20 lead. From there, Undra Mitchem hit another three followed immediately by a Darion Rackley steal and fast break basket to push the lead to eight. The Gamecocks would go into the lock room up ten, 38-28.
Midway through the final half JSU reached their largest lead of the night at 14 points, but the Redhawks became hot from behind the arc and began to cut into the lead. Over a five minute stretch from 11:50 to 7:09, Martin Methodist used a 21-8 run to pull within one, 63-62, forcing a JSU timeout.
The Redhawks are no slouch on the court having had their best season in 2011 winning 34 games. Still, the Gamecocks were able to regroup and extend the lead for the time until the game was tied up 70-70 with 3:43 remaining. As was the case all night, JSU shot poorly from the stripe in the final minutes to keep the game close. JSU made just 18 of 35 attempts (51%) all night, which in the end allowed Martin Methodist to have a full-court heave for the win, but the shot was short letting the Gamecocks survive with an 80-78 win.
Missing from Monday night’s action were seniors Rico Sanders and Nick Cook. Both were getting final rest to heal minor injuries but are expected to be ready to play on Friday. After transferring from South Alabama, Sanders came on strong at the end of last season shooting 40 percent from long range and proved to be an improving ball handler. Cook, will aid the defense as he has nearly 300 rebounds and 108 blocks in the last two seasons.
Cook will get relief from 6’9” sophomore Mike Louder and newcomer standout D.J. Felder who had 19 rebounds alone Monday night. Brian Williams and Darion Rackley will likely carry the load scoring wise but will have help from Undra Mitchem and Grant White who returns to Jacksonville after a year at Palm Beach State where he started all 32 games and led the Panthers to a 29-3 record. Two seasons ago White saw time in all 33 of JSU’s games and scored 121 points.
The Gamecocks start a rigorous three-game road trip to officially kick off the 2013-14 season starting Friday when they visit the Bradley Braves of the Missouri Valley Conference. Last season Bradley was 18-17 with wins over OVC schools UT-Martin and Eastern Illinois. JSU next Champaign, IL., where the Gamecocks will meet the Big Ten’s Fighting Illini of Illinois. The Illini were 23-13 a year ago with wins over Butler, then eighth ranked Ohio State and tournament 1 seed Gonzaga.
Before returning home JSU will face the Chicago State Cougars, who is no walk-over, but will be a much more comfortable matchup following JSU’s opening pair of contests.