The Jacksonville State junior scored 17 points, including the shot of the game and clinching free throws, in the Gamecocks’ 71-68 victory over SIU-Edwardsville on Monday night.
The team decorated her locker and sang "Happy Birthday" during their morning shootaround, then Morton went out and played like she owned the day.
“I could not have asked for a better 21st birthday present at all,” she said. “We played great as a team. It was such a fun effort. It was just fun – on the bench, on the court, it was all just fun."
The win helped the Gamecocks (6-13, 2-4 OVC) continue trending upwards after two dreadful seasons, and puts them in the eighth and final Ohio Valley Conference tournament position.
It marked the first time since Jan. 6-8, 2011, they won back-to-back OVC games and the first time since late January 2008 they won back-to-back OVC games at home.
They now have more wins this season than the last two years combined and as many conference wins.
“This is a different feeling,” sophomore guard Destany McLin said. “We hadn’t had this feeling from what I’ve been told since six years ago. It feels really good. We just needed a way to believe that we could and somehow, somewhere it came and we worked with it.”
The game, however, didn’t have to be that close. Scoring on 14 of their first 19 possessions of the second half, the Gamecocks opened a 19-point lead with 6:51 left then simply lost composure.
The Cougars (4-13, 1-4) cut it all the way back to two with 46.5 seconds to play when Morton made what was recognized as the play of the game. She saved a play that didn’t develop by pulling up along the baseline and hitting a short jumper to make it 67-63 with 25.1 left.
“It was a critical crunch time in the game, and we needed a score,” Morton said. “I saw an opening on the baseline. I just had to get that first step up off, and I beat her, then I saw help side and just pulled up. But we needed those points to give us a little bit of comfort going down on the defensive end.”
SIUE got within one twice after that, but Morton gave the Gamecocks a three-point edge with two free throws with 3.7 seconds left. The Cougars had one last chance to tie, but Alexis Chappelle’s 3-point attempt fell way short.
“It could have been same story, different day, but this time we were at least able to finish it,” JSU coach Rick Pietri said. “At the end of the season when they add wins and losses up, nobody’s going to care how many you won or lost by. We won the game and at the end of the day in this business that’s all that matters.
“After the weekend we had a week ago, if you’d have told me here are the scores of Saturday and Monday’s games, I would have taken it sight-unseen not knowing what was going to happen. To generate two wins after last weekend … we definitely need to feel good about that. This was the kind of game we would’ve lost (earlier in the year); now, hopefully, we know we can close them out.”
Morton was one of four JSU scorers in double figures. McLin had 16 on 8-of-10 shooting (and nine rebounds), Briana Benson had 13 off the bench and Miranda Cantrell added 11.
SIUE’s CoCo Moore led all scorers with 25 points.
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.