If you needed to know one thing about Ray Harper, it’s that he’s magical.
Not the hokey, bunny-from-a-hat kind of magic. I’m talking about real, tangible sorcery. Mysticism that he is able to capture and conjure up every March, propelling teams he leads to countless successes.
Year after year, no matter the level, the man is able to take teams and turn them into winners. He does it so well that it appears effortless, even though it’s hard telling how much he and his teams toil to get to that point. This year was one such year, as Jacksonville State went from an 8-23 record to an NCAA Tournament squad, knocking off the herculean Belmont Bruins along the way.
Now, there’s always a limit to the magic, and that ceiling was unfortunately met today. After a hard-fought game that had many hallmarks of an upset in progress, the Jacksonville State Gamecocks were felled by Louisville, 78-63.
At the outset, it was clear that Louisville was just off today. Not only were they missing jump shots, but they couldn’t even hit anything within a few feet of the basket. Meanwhile, Jacksonville State was busy hitting threes and wild shots in general. The Gamecocks jumped out to an 8-0 lead before the Cardinals began to make a run back.
That run back was started after a few made threes from Deng Adel that were coupled with Louisville’s signature press, causing beaucoup Jacksonville State turnovers. The Gamecocks suffered from their inability to hang onto the ball and keep the Cardinals from recovering their own misses, for they went into halftime trailing 38-31.
Louisville really started to break things wide open in the second half as Jacksonville State was unable to get any sort of schemed-out offense going. On the other hand, the Cardinals began to find their rhythm in the paint, and they were actually doing something unusual: hitting a good portion of their free throws.
For Jacksonville State, the day’s best player was none other than Norbertas Giga. A forward from Lithuania, Giga was on fire today from every spot on the court. He finished with 30 points on 11-13 shooting and snagged 9 rebounds on top of that. Oh, and did I mention that he was 5-5 from three? Superb stuff.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to push the Gamecocks past Louisville, but he certainly earned some more admirers of his extreme talent:
.@SteveJones_CJ on Jacksonville State's Norbertas Gigas: "This guy's a first-round draft pick. I mean who's better than this guy?!"— Jeff Greer (@jeffgreer_cj) March 17, 2017
2017 NBA draft: 1. Giga. 2. Fultz. 3. Ball. 4. Tatum.— Steve Jones (@SteveJones_CJ) March 17, 2017
Despite the early lead and Jacksonville State’s inability to maintain it, it would be foolish to classify today’s loss as disappointing. The Gamecocks had an incredible run to even get to this point, and they gave Louisville everything they had. They frustrated them. They stuck with them. It was impressive. There’s no doubt that the program will only grow from here.
Louisville will go on to face 7 seed Michigan this Sunday.