He liked it.
The Gamecocks beat Tennessee State 72-65 in Pete Mathews Coliseum for their first Ohio Valley Conference win of the season.
It wasn’t so much that they won, surpassing their win total of a year ago and snapping an eight-game OVC losing streak — that was significant enough in its own right — but it was the way they did it that had them feeling good about themselves.
The Gamecocks (6-12, 1-4) opened a big lead in the second half by shooting it well and limiting their turnovers. They didn’t let it bother them when that lead was being whittled away. And they kept their edge on the scoreboard by hitting their free throws, particularly down the stretch.
None of that happened when they lost to Morehead State Thursday night.
“We’ve done it at different times, we just haven’t seen it often enough,” Green said. “We’ve been able to make plays on both ends at times, but not often enough, because of that margin of error.
“Obviously I think we took a step of growth. … I think we’ve moved forward some. Even though we’ve had a couple games where we didn’t play well at all, our team is a better basketball team now than it was three weeks ago.”
The Gamecocks won only five games last year and didn’t get their first OVC win until starting their second go-round the league, but led this one from start to finish. It was the first game they’ve led wire-to-wire since Dec. 15, 2009 (Norfolk State).
They opened their biggest halftime lead of the season — 17 points — behind 57 percent shooting and only three turnovers and were ahead by 20 with 14:40 to play.
“We’ve been in this position plenty of times when we’ve had leads and teams came back and started chipping away,” sophomore guard Brian Williams said. “We knew they were going to make a run — all teams do — we’d have to withstand it and not let them take the lead. We knew we were going to get this one.”
The Tigers (8-9, 1-3), who overcame an 18-point second-half deficit to beat JSU in Nashville last January, did make a run and got it back within five with 4:49 to play. But the Gamecocks denied them a repeat by hitting 13 of 16 free throws over the final 1:46. They were only 12 of 23 in the Morehead game.
“The big thing is concentration,” junior forward Ronnie Boggs said. “I don’t think any of the guys are really bad free throw shooters, it’s just concentrating and getting on the line and knowing you’re going to make it.
“We just came out determined and worked a little bit harder to finish out the game. We wanted a conference win. We’ve been fighting and practicing hard every day to get one and it just worked out.”
Williams led the Gamecocks with 17 points. Boggs and Dion Waiters had 12 and 10, respectively, both JSU career highs.
The Gamecocks shot 50 percent from the field for the second game in a row. And even though they were outrebounded by the Tigers, their OVC second-best shooting defense held TSU to a mere 29.8 percent from the field, a season best.
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.