After a shaky non-conference record and an injury to their leading scorer, there was a bit of doubt as to Tennessee State’s prospects in Ohio Valley Conference play. Could they hold out long enough to make the tournament, with Covington expected to return in time for a run in March.
Turns out, they may be just fine. M.J. Rhett and Kellen Thorton both record double-doubles, as TSU uses a 48-27 advantage on the board on their way to an 66-57 win on the road at Jacksonville State.
Despite an early Tennessee State run, the Gamecocks led by two as neither team could gain much momentum in the first half. Tennessee State was just 9-24 (37.5%) from the field, but 0-8 from behind the arc. Jacksonville State shot even worse, 7-25 (28%) from the field, but hit three trey’s, and had a slight advantage at the free throw line.
After TSU took the lead in the second half, Jacksonville State rattled off six unanswered to take a three point lead with 15:17 to go. On Tennessee State’s next possession, Tashan Fredrick hit one of Tennessee State’s two threes on the night. Jacksonville State would take back the lead once again after a Darion Rackley layup on a fastbreak, but again it wouldn’t last, with Michael Green drawing contact and hitting a jumper on the other end of the court. From there, the Tigers wouldn’t trail again, hitting free-throws down the stretch to seal the nine point win.
Patrick Miller led the Tigers in scoring for the third straight game, putting up 19 points thanks to 12-16 shooting from the free-throw line. Rhett, Thorton, and Jordan Cyphers all finished in double figures. Rhett and Thorton pulled down 16 and 14 rebounds respectively, combining to out rebound the entire Jacksonville State team.
Rackley led the Gamecocks with 22 points, including 3-5 shooting from behind the arc. Tarvin Gaines added 17 points, the only other Jacksonville State player to finish in double figures. Jacksonville State committed just five total turnovers on the night, forcing 13 from Tennessee State. Despite the huge discrepancy in turnovers and rebounds, both teams finished with eight fast break points, and Jacksonville State had one more second chance point that the Tigers. The Gamecocks were outscored by 10 in the paint, and helf to just 32% shooting from the field on the night.
My praise for Jacksonville State may seem very premature in retrospect, but losing to Belmont and Tennessee State aren’t exactly bad losses. They’re not great losses, (if such a thing exists) especially at home, but I don’t think it’s time to write off the Gamecocks just yet. Their defense on the perimeter continues to be very good, but they’re undersized inside, and that’s creating a lot of problems of defense, and on the boards.
Some people had already written off Tennessee State, but they’re showing they’re still a team to watch out for this season as well. If this team can continue to win without Covington, it appears Tennessee State could put themselves in a position to make another run in March. Tonight’s win is great, but we’ve still have to see how they fare against the top tier of the conference.
Jacksonville State travels to the other end of the conference this week, making the SIU Edwardsville (4-8, 0-2) / Eastern Illinois (3-13, 0-3) road swing, but both of those games are very winnable. Tennessee State also has two games against the West Division, hosting UT Martin (4-12, 1-3) and Southeast Missouri (10-7, 2-1)