COMEBACK: JU men rally from 19 down to knock off Belmont, 65-64
Marcus Allen
Marcus Allen
The gold jerseys must have some mystical powers for the JU men’s basketball team.

Trailing by 19 points at halftime, Ben Smith capped an epic comeback with a pair of free throws with 6.6 seconds left to give the Dolphins an epic 65-64 win over three-time Atlantic Sun Conference champions Belmont at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena on Thursday night.

The Dolphins (1-5, 1-0 A-Sun) have won all four games in which they have donned the gold unis, which were worn for the first time in school history last season.

Smith scored 16 points, with 11 of those coming in the second half – hitting 9-of-10 from the free throw line. Senior forward Marcus Allen had his best night of the season thus far, scoring a game-high 21 points to go along with five rebounds.

“I’m really proud of how our guys fought back in the second half,” said JU head coach Cliff Warren. “We had a great crowd that was able to get behind us and became a sixth man for us late in the game.

“We can’t rest on this win. We have to keep improving each day.”

The defense stole the show and in the end, won the game for JU in the second half.

Trailing 41-22 at the intermission, JU put on a stellar defensive effort in the second half – holding the usually hot-shooting Bruins (3-3, 0-1 A-Sun) to just 5-of-22 shooting from the floor.

After Smith hit his free throws with 6.6 seconds left, Andy Wicke drove the lane, but had his potential game-winning jumper blocked by Allen. Henry Harris’ toss at the buzzer clanged off the rim and the JU bench poured onto the floor in celebration.

The epic comeback capped a grueling six-game stretch to open the season that included five teams that played in the postseason a year ago. During the first five games, JU had made a habit of digging a big hole and almost climbing out of it.

On Thursday night that all changed.

Just six minutes into the second half, the Dolphins had cut the deficit from 19 to seven – capping a 17-5 run with on a fastbreak layup by Evan Jefferson.

The Bruins came back with six straight points to push the lead back to 13, with Wicke hitting his second of three 3-poitners on the night.

With the deficit at 11 and just 8:47 left in the game, the Dolphins began their run – starting with a 6-0 spurt to cut the deficit to five on a put back by Ayron Hardy – who finished the game with 10 points and a team-high eight rebounds.

The Bruins got a free throw from Matthew Dotson, but saw the Dolphins score the next six points – capping the run with a pair of Allen free throws to tie the game at 59 with 3:42 left in regulation.

Wicke came right back for Belmont, attempting two 3-pointers on one possession and draining the second one to give the Bruins a 62-59 lead.

JU came right back with four straight points to take its first lead since the opening minutes. An Allen jumper from the low block put the Dolphins on top 63-62 with 2:29 to go.

The Bruins continued to attack the basket and Shane Dansby hit a pair of free throws with 1:29 left to give Belmont a 64-63 lead.

That score stood until the final seconds when Smith drove to the basket and was fouled attempting to put the Dolphins on top. His two free throws gave JU the lead that the defense would not relinquish.

The win snaps JU’s six-game losing streak to the Bruins, a streak dating back to the 2004-05 season.

Belmont’s first half was completely different than the second half, hitting 7-of-11 from behind the arc and 16-of-26 from the floor en route to the 41-22 lead at the intermission.

Dotson led three Bruins in double figures with 14. Dansby had 12 and Wicke had 11.

The Dolphins will look to avoid a letdown after the emotional win as they host Lipscomb on Saturday afternoon at Swisher Gymnasium. Tipoff is scheduled for 3:15 p.m.