The loss, their season-longest sixth in a row, dropped the Gamecocks 1.5 games behind SEMO and Austin Peay for the eighth and final OVC Tournament berth. JSU has two games left, while Peay and SEMO have three.
The Gamecocks (10-19, 4-10) hold the tiebreaker on Peay, but now not on SEMO. Peay beat SEMO in its first meeting of the season and the teams play again Feb. 27.
“A whole lot of things gotta happen in order for us to get to the tournament now,” JSU coach James Green said on his postgame radio show. “When you start pulling for other teams you put yourself in a bad position, but when you get there, you pull for them.
“Sometimes in life we let opportunities get away and we let a lot of them get away this season, but we still have two opportunities and in life if you’ve got something left as a possibility for you to accomplish, then you need to go try to accomplish that. That’s the only way we can approach it.”
For the second time this season, Darion Rackley went for a career-high 27 points, but the Gamecocks couldn’t overcome SEMO’s dominance inside.
The Redhawks (14-13, 5-8) outscored JSU 58-16 in the paint. Tyler Smith, the OVC preseason player of the year, had a game-high 28 points and nine rebounds. Nino Johnson had 14 points and 10 boards. SEMO shot 56.5 percent from the floor.
The Gamecocks led by five late in the first half, then SEMO went on a 30-8 tear into the second half to take control. JSU got as close as 12 with about four minutes to go, then the Redhawks pulled away.
“From an individual talent standpoint there’s nothing surprising about what they were able to do in terms of punishing us on the inside,” Green said. “They really banged us on the boards. Part of our problem is not how we defend in the paint, but what our capabilities are out on the perimeter because we can’t push them away from the paint.
“We just did not do a very good job of trying to defend. If you can’t defend, you can’t win. I can remember if we scored 70 in previous years that’d mean we win probably by 12 because we would guard a little bit better. We’re not very good defensively. This is probably the worst defensive team we’ve had since I’ve been here and we hadn’t been great yet.”
Avery Moore had 13 points for JSU and D.J. Felder added 12. Freshman Joe Kuligoski had career highs of seven points and eight rebounds.
“Joe was the only guy who would dive and try to knock splinters out of the floor,” Green said. “We need to have more guys to play that way.”