With win over EKU, Gamecocks’ Pietri now holds career wins record at two schools

Feb. 16—JACKSONVILLE — Dana Austin owns one less record at Jacksonville State.

A prolific player and coach for the Gamecocks women’s basketball program, she is no longer the winningest coach in school history.

Current head coach Rick Pietri scored his 116th win at JSU with Monday’s 73-55 win over Eastern Kentucky. Austin had 115 wins during 1993-2003 when the school made its transition from Division II to Division I.

At least she’s still the program’s all-time leading scorer.

“I appreciate the fact that administrations we’ve had here have been supportive of me and allowed me to continue to do this,” said Pietri, who is in his eighth season at JSU. “You only get to stay a while if they’ll have you.

“Let’s face it, in the coaching world, you don’t usually get to keep your job very long unless you’re putting at least a reasonable amount of success together. I’d like to believe we’ve done that.”

Pietri now has the unique standing as the winningest women’s coach at two of the state’s 10 Division I schools — he was at South Alabama in 2000-13 and his 220 victories there are a program record.

Funny enough, his first game as a college head coach came against Dana Austin, who now is an assistant coach to her husband, Ricky Austin, at Spring Garden High School, her alma mater.

“We beat them,” Pietri said, referring to a 79-53 victory Nov. 17, 2000. “I spoke to her that day, and we talked quite a bit. She was the first opposing head coach in Division I who I had a conversation with in pregame. We had a good conversation that day.

“Talked about getting them on the schedule for the following year, and we came up here the following year, and they beat us. I’ve had a handful of conversations with her since I’ve been here. I’ve got a lot of respect for her as a person, and I’ve got a lot of respect for what she was able to do as the head coach here.”

Monday’s win is JSU’s 11th in a row, which is a school record. The Gamecocks are the only OVC team unbeaten on their home floor.

They’re 12-6 overall and after winning four straight, they’re 9-5 in the OVC. That’s good for fifth place, but the two teams ahead of them also have five losses in the league: Southeast Missouri (11-5) and Tennessee Tech (10-5).

EKU (7-12, 6-9) is in ninth place and could’ve slipped into eighth by itself with a win. Only the top eight qualify for the OVC postseason tournament.

The Colonels tested JSU early and led 20-11 after one quarter. JSU outscored EKU 23-2 in the second quarter with the help of its bench. When the Gamecocks slumped at the start of the second half, the bench rode to the rescue again.

Imari Martin (24 points), Kyra Williams (nine points), Nekiyah Thompson (13 points and seven assists) and Keiara Griffin (six points) helped turn the tide.

“Clearly, (EKU) was more invested in playing in the beginning than we were,” Pietri said. We made some personnel changes, and things got a little bit better. To outscore them 23-2 in the second quarter speaks volumes about the kids who came off the bench and responded like they did, because if I’m not mistaken, most of the time, we had four kids who were coming off the bench with what we had out there.”

What to know

—Williams, a Jacksonville High graduate, has found her shooting range. After not scoring in the first 12 games, she has 35 points in the last six. She played a season-high 19 minutes Monday.

—Martin sank 6 of 10 from behind the 3-point arc Monday. For the year, she is hitting 44.1 percent of 3-pointers at home and 17.1 percent on the road.

—Among the starters, Kennedy Gavin had 12 points and five rebounds, and Jessie Day managed a team-high 10 rebounds while not scoring.

—At one point in the second quarter, JSU players drew a charge on EKU players on four straight defensive possessions.

—Late in the third quarter, Williams hit a layup to put JSU up 47-41, and EKU’s Jayla Johnson drew a technical foul while taking the ball out of bounds. It appeared the official overheard Johnson say something she shouldn’t have. Thompson made two foul shots, and Gavin made a layup 10 seconds later, giving JSU a 10-point lead.

Who said

—Pietri on Williams’ rise: “She still will have those backtrack moments, but nevertheless, there’s been an epiphany of sorts. She gets it now in a way she didn’t get it before. It’s allowed her to be a factor for us.”

—Pietri on allowing Martin to play 35 minutes: “She was spectacular. We needed a lift. With our first unit, it wasn’t there, and she gave us a huge lift. She did it on both ends. It wasn’t just the offensive end. You could argue it was the best game she played since she’s been here.”

Next up

—JSU will play at Belmont on Thursday, at Tennessee State on Saturday and at Southern Illinois Edwardsville on Monday.

Senior Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.

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