By Bob Flynn
Register Sports Writer
Career scoring nights by Corey Walden and Mike DiNunno propelled the Colonels to a 73-62 win over Jacksonville State Saturday in Jacksonville, Ala.
Playing without Glenn Cosey for the fourth straight game and Orlando Williams, who was hurt against Belmont on Thursday, the Colonels needed their two top offensive threats to step up and they came through in a big way.
Walden had 16 of his 28 points in the second half, while DiNunno scored 12 of his 24 in the second half and they combined to go eight-for-eight from the free throw line down the stretch as JSU tried to stage a comeback.
The Colonels built a lead of as many as 17 points and were up 56-40 with six minutes to go on the strength of their in-your-face defense, which frustrated JSU all game.
The Gamecocks didn’t quit and took advantage of several EKU turnovers in the second half to cut the Colonel lead down to seven at 61-54 with 3:24 to go.
But DiNunno and Walden slammed the door shut with their perfect free throw shooting to preserve the win.
EKU coach Jeff Neubauer credited the stiff defense, especially in the first half, for the victory.
“This team really is gutsy. It doesn’t matter who’s in the starting lineup or who’s playing or not playing. This team just responds,” Neubauer said in a radio interview. “I know I sound like a broken record, but this game was won with our defense. We came in here on another team’s court and held them to 22 points in the first half so they had to change their approach and get more aggressive defensively.”
The Colonel gameplan going in, Neubauer said, was to get penetration by the guards to put pressure on the JSU interior defense.
DiNunno and Walden carried that out to perfection.
After the Colonels went scoreless for the first three minutes of the game, DiNunno got things going with back-to-back three pointers to get EKU even at 6-6.
Then he, Walden and Marcus Lewis began driving into the lane and scoring or kicking the ball back out to wide-open shooters.
Walden, Jeff Johnson and Timmy Knipp all drained three pointers as the Colonels jumped out to a 36-22 lead at the half.
The two teams played pretty evenly before the Gamecocks began mounting their comeback.
Two free throws by Nick Cook and a three pointer by Ryan Williams cut the Colonel lead to 56-45 with five minutes left.
Baskets by Walden, DiNunno and a free throw from Jeff Johnson offset a basket and two free throws by Tarvin Gains.
But after a couple of EKU turnovers, Williams hit another three and a short jumper to pull JSU to within seven at 61-54.
They were still down seven and looking to cut it closer but a big block by Jeff Johnson and Walden on Gaines with less than a minute to go helped stave off the Gamecock charge and DiNunno sealed the win with six straight free throws down the stretch.
Neubauer said that in some earlier games the Colonels defense in the final minutes was not very good, but that wasn’t the case against JSU.
“We had some good defensive possessions down the stretch,” Neubauer said. “We showed the guys some film where in the last few minutes of games we had guys stop playing defense. Our guys have obviously learned from those sessions, we continued to guard all the way to the end.”
The Colonels shot 31 percent from the floor against the Gamecocks, who came into the contest as the 12th-best defensive team in the country, holding their opponents to only 28 percent shooting on the year.
The EKU defense held JSU to just 27 percent shooting from behind the three point line for the game.
Knipp finished with seven points and five rebounds, while Jeff Johnson had four points and five rebounds, Tarius Johnson and Eric Stutz finished with four points and three rebounds each and Marcus Lewis had two points and two rebounds.
The Colonels will be back in action Thursday at 7 p.m. against Tennessee State at McBrayer Arena.
Just like the Colonels, Tennessee State is 5-1 in the conference after losing to Belmont on Saturday, 78-66.