JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville University men’s basketball team is in the thick of the Atlantic Sun race as time begins to dwindle between now and March. A pair of road contests this weekend could prove vital as the Dolphins (9-13, 5-6 A-Sun) strive for at least one home game in the upcoming conference tournament. JU can take a huge step toward that goal and send a message to the rest of the conference on Thursday as the team travels to take on Florida Gulf Coast (14-9, 8-2 A-Sun) in a 7:05 p.m. matchup from FGCU’s Alico Arena. Coverage will be available online at ESPN3.com and on 92.5 FM as Voice of the Dolphins Scott Manze has the call.
Coming off a split of two home games last weekend, Jacksonville enters the weekend tied with Lipscomb in the conference standings. It was the Bisons who got the Dolphins off to a disappointing start last Thursday as they nailed 12 3-pointers and came away with an 88-76 win. Two days later, JU stormed back to record one of its most impressive outings of the season. Jarvis Haywood helped stake the Dolphins to a healthy lead at the break – scoring 18 of his 19 points in the first half – and Keith McDougald had 13 of his 22 in the second half to keep the Fins in command the rest of the way as Jacksonville sent Northern Kentucky off with a 95-77 thrashing. The 95 points scored by the Dolphins were the most in a non-overtime game against a Division I opponent since a 96-46 win over Troy on Nov. 27, 2000.
To get the win, Jacksonville will have to find some consistent scoring options other than Haywood. In 10 road games this season, the sophomore is scoring at a 20.3 points per game clip, but McDougald is the only other Dolphin averaging double-figures (11.9). The struggles have been more pronounced in the team’s shooting. While the Dolphins are shooting more than 36 percent from deep when at home, that figure dips down below 29 percent on the road. The same thing goes at the line where the team is above 74 percent in Jacksonville, but less than 66 percent away.
Florida Gulf Coast will present a big challenge to the Dolphins, having won all five conference home games and nine of 10 overall on the season inside Alico Arena. Bernard Thompson, Chase Fieler and Brett Comer are the main scoring options for FGCU, but this year’s team is more likely to win with defense. Allowing 65.9 points per game, the Eagles top the A-Sun in scoring defense and have opponents shooting only .416 from the floor. Additionally, FGCU is tied for the best defensive rebounding percentage in the conference, giving up an offensive rebound on less than 30 percent of all misses and allowing few second opportunities.
Since FGCU joined the Atlantic Sun, Jacksonville has taken an 8-5 lead in the all-time series against the Eagles, including a 76-69 win at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena on Jan. 11. In the earlier meeting this season, McDougald scored a team-high 19 and Haywood and J.R. Holder each were in double-figures as well. RJ Slawson had nine points and 12 rebounds to offset 20 points and 10 boards from Fieler. JU opened up a lead in the first half and extended it out to 13 points as the game wore on in picking up the victory.
The Dolphins close out the weekend on Saturday a little closer to home. JU will meet Stetson at 1 p.m. from the Edmunds Center in DeLand in a game broadcast on ASun.TV.