The Gamecocks claimed their first victory of the basketball season, bouncing back from an uncomfortably close first half to overwhelm upstart Dalton (Ga.) State 85-61.
Conventional wisdom would suggest this was a team the Gamecocks (1-5) should have had their way with, but they were down early and led by only four at halftime.
The players described the atmosphere during the break as calm. Appealing to his players’ pride and fan perception of their play, JSU coach James Green was a lot less animated than he has been in situations like this before. That didn’t mean the Gamecocks didn’t find their game.
They opened the second half with a 23-3 run, holding the NAIA upstarts scoreless for nearly the first four minutes. They hit 16 of their first 19 shots from the field, opened as much as a 31-point lead and outscored the visitors by 20 in the half.
“I think they searched their inner self a little bit. I wouldn’t necessarily say we did it,” Green said. “At some point, we’ve got to get into being who we need to be, and I thought we did a better job at that in the second half.
“You can go in there and raise all the Cain you want to and come back out and look the same. We punch when we need to punch and explain and teach when we need to do that. I think our guys today were probably more receptive at halftime to the teaching part.”
The Roadrunners (8-2), playing just the 10th game in the history of their program, gave JSU all it could handle early. They hit five of their first nine from 3-point range and opened a 17-9 lead eight minutes into the game.
Darion Rackley helped bring the Gamecocks back to a 38-34 halftime lead by scoring 12 of their last 15 points.
Rackley tied his career high with 27 points, but there was another stat that made him even prouder – zero turnovers in 31 minutes. He had 17 over his last three games.
“I just knew we were losing, so I wanted to stay aggressive on offense and defense,” Rackley said. “We knew we had some stuff to work on, so we came back out and picked it up the way we’re supposed to, played the whole half instead of the ending of the half.”
Freshman Undra Mitchem more than doubled his season point total with 17 points. He had 13 points in the second half, eight in the 9-0 run that opened the second half and gave the Gamecocks some breathing room.
Grant White, handling the point to give Brian Williams a chance to rest the right shoulder he hurt before the home opener, had 11 points and three assists. Jamal Hunter had eight points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots.
“That was a good run,” Mitchem said. “Shots were falling for everybody. We were running up and down the floor, getting layups and dunks. It got fun. We started playing basketball and there were smiles on everybody’s faces once you do it right.”
A year ago, the Gamecocks got off to one of their best starts in school history, winning their first three games and 10 of their first 13. Had they lost Friday, they would have fallen to 0-6 for the first time since at least the end of World War II. It was the deepest into the schedule they had gotten their first win since Mike LaPlante’s first team started 0-5 in 2000-01.
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.