Late rally comes up short as JU drops season finale, 64-62
Ben Smith led the JU men’s basketball team on a spirited rally from a 19-point deficit in the final seven minutes against ETSU, but came up just short as the Bucs ruined the season finale for the Dolphins with a 64-62 win at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena.

The loss means the Dolphins (18-11, 14-6) will be sharing the A-Sun title and will be the No. 2 seed in next week’s General Shale Brick Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament in Macon, Ga.

Smith scored a game-high 28 points, with 17 coming in the final seven minutes as he tried to rally the Dolphins from a 19-point deficit. He hit seven 3-pointers in the game, with three straight coming during the late run.

Unfortunately for JU, Smith didn’t have enough magic. His heave from just across midcourt at the buzzer was off the mark, which would have given JU an amazing win.

“We didn’t do a lot of things well in the first 30 to 35 minutes of the game,” said JU head coach Cliff Warren. “Ben was phenomenal late in the game – just like he’s been his four years here. We fought hard in the lost few minutes, but that is the way we need to play from the opening tip for us to reach our goal of making the NCAA Tournament.”

ETSU (17-14, 13-7 A-Sun) built a 59-40 lead with 7:51 left in the game courtesy of a 17-5 run after JU has cut the lead to seven early in the second half. Isiah Brown’s uncontested dunk seemed to take the crowd out of the game and seal the Dolphins fate.

Smith would have something to say about that.

After JU had cut the lead to 16, Smith scored JU’s next 15 points as the Dolphins gave up just two points over the next five minutes to trail 61-58 with 2:21 left in the game.

JU got a defensive stop, but Smith’s 3-point attempt to tie the game was off the mark, and Sheldon Cooley hit a pair of free throws with 1:12 left to put the Bucs up by five, 63-58.

Smith came right up the floor and hit a driving layup to get JU back within three. Tevin Galvin got a defensive rebound and hit a pair of free throws with 47 seconds left to pull JU within one, 63-62.

The Dolphins forced Justin Tubbs to rush a long 3-pointer as the shot clock was winding down, but Micah Williams chased down the rebound for the Bucs. He hit 1-of-2 at the stripe to take a 64-62 lead and JU had the possession arrow on the jump ball that ensued after the missed free throw.

With only 4.5 seconds left, Smith raced up the floor, getting bumped at midcourt by Hubbard before being forced to heave his shot from 45 feet that was off the mark.

The Dolphins defensive effort in the final seven minutes was nothing short of spectacular. The Bucs scored just five points, with all of those coming at the free throw line. Brown’s dunk with 7:51 left in the game was ETSU’s last field goal.

ETSU had three players in double figures, led by Brown’s 15 points and 12 rebounds. Williams added 15 and Tommy Hubbard had 12.

The Dolphins hit eight 3-pointers in the game, with Smith accounting for seven. Lehmon Colbert was the only other Dolphin in double figured with 11 points. Galvin pulled down a team-high 12 rebounds as JU was beaten the boards, 41-34, giving up 12 second chance points to ETSU.

A 14-5 run by ETSU to end the first half gave the Bucs a 37-24 lead at halftime. JU shot just 33.3 percent in the half, connecting on 9-of-27 from the floor and just 3-of-8 from the free throw line.