GAME NOTES: The Jacksonville State Gamecocks will try for the fifth time to register their first win of the season, as they hit the road on Tuesday night to take on the Auburn Tigers.
Jacksonville State, which was one of the better teams in the Ohio Valley Conference a season ago at 17-11 overall, has struggled out of the gate with four straight losses. After dropping a trio of road games to Bradley, Illinois and Chicago State, the Gamecocks played their home opener versus Alabama State on Saturday, losing 84-73.
Auburn began its season-opening five-game homestand on Nov. 8 with a 76-54 win over Nicholls State, but it experienced a letdown in a 111-92 defeat at the hands of Northwestern State last Friday night. The Tigers were just 9-23 a season ago, and they are expected to be one of the worst teams in the SEC again this time around.
Auburn has dominated the all-time series with Jacksonville State, winning all 12 meetings with an average margin of victory of 28 points.
The Gamecocks put forth a solid offensive showing in their latest game, shooting 23-of-55 from the field and 24-of-33 at the foul line, but they could not keep Alabama State off the scoreboard in the 11-point loss. Jacksonville State committed 29 personal fouls in the tilt, which resulted in a 32-of-39 showing at the stripe for the Hornets. Darion Rackley led all scorers with 23 points, although he was guilty of six turnovers. Brian Williams netted 16 points and in the process became the 22nd player in school history to score 1,000 career points. Nick Cook also poured in 16 points in the setback. JSU's poor defense has been a trend here in the early going, as it allows opponents to score 80.2 points per game on nearly 50 percent shooting from the floor. Rackley (16.8 ppg) is the top scoring option for a squad that nets a modest 68.8 points per outing. Williams tallies 14.8 points per game, and Cook (8.5 ppg, 8.8 rpg) is a mainstay in the frontcourt.
Even though Auburn held a 14-point lead early in the second half of its most recent contest, it was outscored in the final 20 minutes by Northwestern State, 72-44, en route to the 19-point home loss. The setback can't take away from Chris Denson's career-best performance, as he made good on 12-of-18 field goal attempts for 29 points while adding nine rebounds and five assists for good measure. KT Harrell was also impressive with 21 points, although he was off the mark from 3-point range (2-of-11). Chris Griffin and Allen Payne rounded out the unit's double-digit performers with 13 and 10 points, respectively. The Tigers have looked good from the field through two games (59-of-127, .465), even though their efficiency from beyond the arc (.273) needs work. Denson (24.5 ppg) appears he will be given every opportunity to be one of the SEC's top scorers this season. Harrell (21.0 ppg) is also in for a high-volume campaign for a team expected to be playing from behind more often than not.
While Jacksonville State is probably better than it has shown to this point, it still can't be trusted on the road, even against a lackluster Auburn squad. It might be ugly, but the Tigers should prevail on their home floor behind the scoring prowess of Denson and Harrell.
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