Jacksonville State (9-3, 1-0) at UT Martin (3-10, 0-1)
4:00 p.m. CST
Only one game on tap today, and it’s a afternoon tip in Martin as the surging Gamecocks travel to face a resurgent Skyhawks looking for their first OVC win in two seasons.
UT Martin is finally getting back to full strength, with Khristian Taylor and Terence Smith back in action Saturday, helping the Skyhawks give SEMO a early season scare at home. Myles Taylor played just 20 minutes in the loss before fouling out, but Jeremy Washington had his best game of the season in his third game back from injury, putting up a double-double against a formidable Redhawks frontcourt. If Washington can remain consistent, and with Taylor and Smith in the backcourt, the Skyhawks look like a much different team than the team that went 3-9 in non-conference play, and unimaginably different than last year’s team that went winless in the OVC.
Jacksonville State has virtually zero depth, rivaling Murray State in that aspect, but the Gamecocks are currently the best defensive team in the OVC. We’re used to seeing good defense out of James Green‘s squads, but there are two things setting this year’s team apart: their ability to force turnovers, and their shooting on offense. The Gamecocks force 16 turnovers a game, and are 8th in the nation in tempo-free turnover rate. They have four guys averaging better than one steal a game, leading to a lot of runouts on offense.
Even in the halfcourt, the Gamecocks are executing better. Brian Williams, Ronnie Boggs, Tarvin Gaines, and Darion Rackley all average better than 11 points a game, giving them a lot of options when all four are on the court together. The Gamecocks are shooting 32% from three; While far from earth-shattering, it’s impressive considering last year’s team led by the same quartet shot 27%, 3rd worst in the nation. Jacksonville State shot nearly 55% from the floor, and 44% from 3-point range in their win Saturday against Tennessee Tech.
Jacksonville State could make the race for the OVC tournament interesting. While they’re ineligible, playing two games against teams in the East Division could cost a team in a tight race for the eighth position.
UT Martin’s OVC prospects are a still a bit cloudy. A loss today will send UTM to 0-2, with Murray State next up on their schedule, making 0-3 a real possibility. They play in the weaker West Division, but might still need at least two wins against the East to solidify a position in Nashville this March. They get their first chance at that today.