Flash back to March 6, 2013 in the quarterfinals of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament as Briana Benson made the game-winning layup for Jacksonville State to knock off Tennessee Tech – Benson repeated that moment on Monday with a buzzer beater to help JSU edge Mercer, 67-66, at Pete Mathews Coliseum.
The win pushed Jax State’s overall record to 9-3 on the season and the fastest to reach the nine-win total in the program’s NCAA Division I history. The Gamecocks wrapped up the non-conference slate with a program best nine wins outside of conference opponents. The one-point win also extended JSU’s home winning streak to six games, dating back to last season’s home finale win over Belmont.
After the Bears’ Precious Bridges knocked down the go-ahead jumper with 17 seconds left on the game clock, Benson drove the paint and put up a shot that bounced on the rim and went in, plus got fouled on the play with sixth tenths left to play. The Jonesboro, Georgia-native missed the free throw, but the win was preserved. Benson finished with 11 points and five rebounds in the victory
It was a tale of two halves for both squads in their first game back from the Christmas holiday break. For JSU, the first half was its best half as it hit 53 percent from the field and limited MU to just 9-of-28 shooting. The Gamecocks trailed 13-9 with 13:59 after a Briana Williams bucket. From that point, the Red and White would erase the four-point deficit with a three-pointer by freshman Leah Strain. Strain ignited the JSU offense the rest of the first half as the Woodland, Alabama-guard came off the bench to score a career-high and team-best 14 points with 12 of those coming in the opening 20 minutes. Sophomore Kelly Naughton was inserted in to the starting line up as head coach Rick Pietri was without the services of starting point guard Destiny James, who was sidelined with an illness. Strain picked up the slack with her point production along with six assists and a steal in 23 minutes of action.
Jax State would out-score the Bears 30-10 over the final 13:32 and take its largest lead of 16 points twice at 37-21 with 3:38 left in the half and would take that same margin in to the halftime break at 39-23. MU employed its zone defense against JSU throughout most of the first half, but the Gamecocks nailed six of their nine treys in the first half counter the zone.
The Bears’ zone played havoc on Jax State in the second half and it allowed them to cut in to the lead to start the half on a 20-5 run to start the half and reduce the 16-point lead down to one at 44-43 on a Bridges layup with 11:46 to play. MU’s Alex Williams would even the score at 44-all on MU’s next possession and take the lead at 45-44 on a pair of free throws. MU would take its largest lead since the four-point, 13-9, advantage earlier in the opening half at 47-44 on a Williams jumper.
MU turned in a 41 percent shooting effort in the second half, while limiting the Gamecocks to 29 percent in the final 20 minutes.
JSU freshman Gretchen Morrison would knock down back-to-back three pointers to tie the contest at 47 and eventually give the Gamecocks a 50-47 lead with just under nine minutes left to play. JSU would build a five point lead after a pair of Morrison free throws with 6:21 to play. Morrison, from Southlake, Texas, turned her season high in points with eight. He previous best was six points in her collegiate debut in her home state of Texas at Texas Tech.
JSU would nurse a narrow lead until Bridges drained a three pointer with 36 seconds left to play to knot the contest at 64-all. Benson hit the second of two free throws with 17 seconds left to give JSU a 65-64 lead before Bridges responded with the go-ahead basket with eight tics left.
MU’s Bridges led all scorers with 23 points and played all 40 minutes of the contest. Williams pitched in 19 points, while Kahlia Lawrence finished with 12 points.
With a 9-3 mark in against the non-conference opponents, the Gamecocks now turn their attention to the OVC schedule as they will trek to SIU Edwardsville on Thursday for a 4 p.m. New Years Day match up with the Cougars before continuing on to Charleston, Ill on Saturday against Eastern Illinois. Both games will be available on the Gamecock Sports Network and streamed live on the OVC Digital Network.