Comeback Falls Short for Men’s Basketball Against USC Upstate
J.R. Holder (Photo Courtesy of Skip Tapp)
J.R. Holder (Photo Courtesy of Skip Tapp)

SPARTANBURG, S.C. – It was a tale of two halves on Thursday night between the Jacksonville University men’s basketball team and USC Upstate. Down as many as 20 points in the first half, the Dolphins (8-11, 4-4 Atlantic Sun) cut the deficit all the way down to three points in the second half but just couldn’t complete the rally, coming away with a 79-69 loss on the road.

Upstate’s Torrey Craig and JU’s Jarvis Haywood traded baskets in the opening minute of the contest, but that proved to be the only tie of the game. The Spartans (10-10, 3-4 A-Sun) responded to the Haywood bucket with a 9-0 run to take an 11-2 lead. Haywood later hit a three that pulled the Dolphins to within seven at 15-8, but Upstate put its foot on the accelerator from there.

Ricardo Glenn scored the next three points for the Spartans and Jodd Maxey leaked out for a pair of transition hoops to grow the lead to 22-8 before Keith McDougald scored inside to end the 7-0 run. Behind 31-14, Jacksonville needed a spark coming out of a timeout and looked to its press to get things going. The change in system paid immediate dividends as Jacksonville proceeded to score the next six points, highlighted by a three-point play from Javon Dawson off a fast break. With the Upstate lead down to 11, the Dolphins appeared to be working their way into the game until the Spartans were finally able to break the pressure and find an open Ty Greene for a 3-pointer that kick-started an 8-0 run to extend the Spartan lead to 39-20. The lead went to 20 after Karim Mawuenyega answered two McDougald free throws with a triple that made it 42-22. Haywood and McDougald carried the Dolphins into the break by combining for the final seven points in a 7-2 run that made it 44-29 at the half.

Jacksonville came with a new energy to begin the second half and shots from RJ Slawson and Vince Martin quickly had the deficit back down to 11. The Upstate advantage remained there for a few minutes as the teams went back and forth until J.R. Holder jumped a passing lane and was by himself for a rim-rattling slam to finally bring the Dolphins back within single digits for the first time in nearly 20 minutes of action at 56-47. Field goals from Martin, Marcel White and Slawson followed to make it a 10-0 Dolphin run and pull the team within three at 56-53, silencing a once-boisterous home crowd.

The Spartans were able to hit a pair of shots to re-establish a seven-point lead on JU with less than eight minutes remaining, and it was 60-54 after Holder hit one of two at the charity stripe. The critical change in momentum came with just under seven minutes to go. Martin had a good look at the top of the key with a chance to once again slice the deficit to three, but it hit front iron and bounced off. Upstate grabbed the board, working the ball to Craig immediately up the left wing. Craig showed no hesitation as he pulled up for a 3-pointer from NBA range, giving the Spartans a nine-point edge at 63-54.

The Dolphins continued to grind away, but the clock was always working against them late in the game. JU cut the lead to seven on two more occasions, but USC Upstate knocked down 16 free throws in the second half to keep Jacksonville at bay and come away with the victory.

“I was pleased with the effort in the second half to battle back, but we did not do a good job at the free throw line and we need to make sure we’re mentally and physically alert at the start of the game,” said Head Coach Cliff Warren.

Haywood once again had game-high honors with 19 points. McDougald added 16 and Dawson had 10. Coming off the bench, Holder had nine points for JU. Craig led the Spartans with 15 points and nine boards.

Jacksonville ends a three-game road trip on Saturday, taking on East Tennessee State at 4 p.m. ASun.TV will provide a streaming feed of the matchup.

Game Notes

- Jacksonville has had only 10 combined turnovers in its last two games, the two best games of the season for the Dolphins in terms of ball control.

- Forcing USC Upstate into 17 turnovers, JU had a turnover margin of +11 on the night. The previous best from this season was +7 against Mercer on Dec. 30.

- Thursday was the second time this season without a blocked shot from the Fins. The other time came against Florida on Nov. 25.

- The Dolphins lost the battle on the boards by 15 (46-31), tied for the second-largest disparity between them and their opponents this season

- Down by 20 in the first half and eventually cutting the Upstate lead down to three, Jacksonville matched its largest comeback of the season. On Nov. 18 at Wake Forest, the Dolphins trailed by 16 in the first half and took a one-point lead on two occasions in the second half on the Demon Deacons.

- Jarvis Haywood led JU in scoring for the 10th time this season.

- RJ Slawson matched a career best with two assists.

- Though known more as a scorer than a distributor, Keith McDougald has had 11 multi-assist games this season, including four against the Spartans.

- With 16 points on the night, McDougald surpassed Barry Brown and Wayne Kruer to now sit 26th all-time at Jacksonville in scoring. The senior needs 19 points to move past Harold Fox (1,077 points from 1971-72) into 25th place.