The Gamecocks’ conference tournament hopes took another hit when they lost to Morehead State 69-67 at Pete Mathews Coliseum.
It was their fourth loss in a row. Combined with other results around the Ohio Valley Conference on Thursday night, it dropped them into a tie for ninth place (with a team they’ve yet to play), 1.5 games out of the eighth and final tournament berth with four games to play.
“I can live with the way we competed after we got started. I’ll live with that,” Green said. “We made some mistakes … but the difference was we just had them on the free throw line too much.”
The Eagles (17-9, 8-3 OVC), a 69-percent free-throw shooting team in the OVC overall but the second-best in league games, were 26 of 33 from the line in the road game — 24 of 29 in the second half. JSU, meanwhile, was only 16 of 21 for the game.
The Gamecocks (10-17, 4-8) showed resiliency bouncing back from a disappointing effort Saturday and had a chance to send this one into overtime, but freshman Undra Mitchem missed two shots with 1.3 seconds remaining.
It was 69-67 when Morehead’s Drew Moore missed two free throws with 11.2 seconds left. Grant White missed a shot to tie it, but Darion Rackley forced a held ball with 2.2 seconds left to give JSU a final shot.
The play was set up for Avery Moore to come off a screen for a game-winning 3-pointer, but it didn’t develop. White saw Mitchem slip his man, and he fed him underneath. Mitchem’s shot was blocked by the underside of the backboard but he was fouled with 1.3 seconds left.
He needed to hit both to extend the game. When his first shot missed the mark, he missed the second on purpose for a possible rebound, but JSU couldn’t corral the ball.
“I went to the line and wasn’t even thinking about missing,” Mitchem said. “I shot the ball how I usually do and just missed it. The pressure hit me once I missed, but before that I went to the line and did my usual routine and shot the ball. I was making sure I didn’t shoot it short, and I shot it too long.”
Mitchem, a 67-percent shooter entering the game, was 5 of 6 from the line going into that situation. He finished with a team-high 13 points.
“I was thinking he was knocking them both down the whole time,” White said.
The Gamecocks again started slowly but came to life after Green called a timeout to remind his players the game was far from over. They went on a 19-7 run the rest of the half to gain a 27-25 halftime lead, a score Green said “was to our liking.”
But possessions got going too quick for them in the second half.
They led by six with 9:53 to play, then their bench got hit with a technical and the momentum changed. Morehead scored its next six points from the foul line and got a basket on a questionable goaltending call to pull ahead and never trailed again.
“I thought every one of our guys gave us a pretty good effort out there,” Green said. “We just have to be in tune from the start of the game so we don’t have to use so much energy to get ourselves back to where we were, but this game was about a lot of other different things in order to put ourselves in that position to win a game, and that is compete like we are interested in the game.”
The Gamecocks played the game shorthanded. Green dismissed junior Teraes Clemmons and senior Rico Sanders from the team Wednesday, and senior guard Brian Williams missed the game with a foot injury.
It is uncertain if Williams will be available Saturday.
Grant ran the offense in Williams’ absence. The team had 12 assists and 11 turnovers.
“I felt very confident and I felt my teammates had confidence in me as well,” he said.
Al Muskewitz covers Jacksonville State sports for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.