Braves finish solid to land first victory under Sam West

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 31, 2003

NATCHEZ &045; As the echoes from whistles, shouts and screeches of sneakers reverberated off the cinder walls and steel rafters of the Davey L. Whitney Recreation Complex Saturday, the commotion heard above all of it was a sound of relief.

If the Braves win a game in the woods and no one is there to witness it, does it still count as a victory?

The answer was an emphatic yes, as Alcorn (1-5) delivered the first win of the Sam West era in front of a sparse 185 fans during a physical 70-68 victory over Jacksonville (Ala.) State (4-3).

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&uot;It’s been about togetherness all along. We just haven’t been able to finish games this season,&uot; said West, who took over after Davey Whitney retired following last season. &uot;I don’t know if it was about getting the monkey off of my back as much as it was playing hard and smart. If this was easy, anybody could do this.&uot;

The Gamecocks had two shots at the buzzer to pull out their third victory over Alcorn in two seasons, but both attempts were off the mark to secure West’s inaugural conquer.

Sharpshooting guard Scott Watson, who hit four 3-pointers on the night, watched his final try hit the front iron and roll off left as the last few seconds anxiously ticked away.

A scramble for the ball resulted in a Jacksonville State timeout with one-tenth of a second left. The Gamecocks set up a play, but Watson’s granny-slung shot was tardy.

&uot;We had two options,&uot; JSU head coach Mike LaPlante said of Watson’s first crack at a buzzer beater. &uot;We wanted to try and get the ball to (forward James) Denson off a down screen or to Watson coming to the ball. We got a good look but didn’t knock it down.&uot;

With 5:44 left in the game senior forward Brian Jackson took a pass in transition, toed the 3-point arc and made a nice pump fake to get the JSU defender in the air.

As the Gamecock flew by him, Jackson took one step to the right and knocked down his third trey of the night to put Alcorn up for good, 64-62.

The Braves made all six of their free throws down the stretch &045; four from two consecutive trips by Port Gibson’s Ray Dotson and a pair from senior forward Dion Callans with 21.2 seconds remaining &045; to either pad their lead or put them back on top.

&uot;That’s the makeup of a baller. Big time players make big time plays,&uot; West said.

True ballers also know how to play some defense. And from the same-ole-same-ole department, West has Alcorn playing up close and personal when it has its backs to its goal.

On several trips in the wee minutes of the first half, the Braves’ in-your-grill man-to-man defense forced JSU into turnovers off errant passes or taking some awkward shots as the shot clock wound down.

One such turnover led to an emphatic alley oop courtesy of Trey Johnson to a rising DeAndre Jones, who finished with 15 points including a hat trick of treys unofficially.

&uot;I think Coach Whitney would’ve been proud with the effort tonight,&uot; West said of the defense. &uot;The Braves of yesteryear would’ve been mighty proud. We got down into the lanes and rebounded the ball, as well.&uot;

Jackson’s catch-and-shoot layup &045; and the foul shot that proceeded &045; with 56 seconds left in the first half capped an 11-2 Alcorn run to give the Braves a 37-30 lead at the break.

Jones’ second three of the final 20 minutes gave Alcorn its biggest margin of the night, 47-36, less than three minutes in.

&uot;We came in 0-5 but wanted to give Coach West an early Christmas present to go home with,&uot; said Jackson, who had a game-high 22 points. &uot;We knew that if we played together we’d eventually pick up a win.&uot;

However, on the strength of a 10-0 run the Gamecocks fought their way back, shrinking their deficit to one, 47-46, on a Denson-and-1 play with 15:19 to go.

After the score see-sawed between ties and Alcorn advantages, Watson &045; who led the Gamecocks with 18 points unofficially &045; hit his final bomb of the night to put Jacksonville State up 54-51 with 11:31 left.

&uot;That was a good college basketball game. Both teams played hard. It came down to who was going to make the plays at the end,&uot; LaPlante said. &uot;For the people that came, it was a good game to watch.&uot;

JSU led from the tip, building a 15-8 lead thanks primarily to the outside shooting of Watson, Trey Eager and Walker Russell.

However, that tormenting Brave defense forced Jacksonville State into careless ball management, as Alcorn was able to obtain its first lead of the game when Jackson dropped in a layup in transition off a Gamecock turnover.