MACON, Ga. – Winners of three straight games, the Jacksonville University men’s basketball team has a chance to be the hottest team entering the Atlantic Sun Tournament if the Dolphins (12-16, 8-9 Atlantic Sun) can knock off the Mercer Bears (22-8, 13-4 A-Sun) in the regular season finale on Saturday at 1 p.m. Scott Manze and Artis Gilmore will sit courtside for the call on 92.5 FM, while ESPN3’s team of Dan Mathews and Todd Wilson will have the live stream.
Thursday might have been the most shocking night of the Atlantic Sun season to date. Though Jacksonville was able to secure a 71-69 win on the road at Kennesaw State, the Dolphins didn’t rise in the standings due to a Lipscomb blowout of Florida Gulf Coast as well as a North Florida overtime decision over Mercer. Those games, combined with a Northern Kentucky demolition of Stetson, left the Hatters with the No. 8 seed in the tournament. All the other seeds are still up for grabs as the 10 A-Sun teams prepare for their final challenges. The Dolphins, currently the No. 7 seed, can rise to No. 6 if they defeat Mercer and have Stetson go on the road and down Lipscomb. As things stand at the moment, JU could go to one of three places for its quarterfinal matchup on Tuesday night; to Mercer, Florida Gulf Coast, or to the winner of Friday night’s game between East Tennessee State and USC Upstate.
JU’s third win in a row was produced largely by a sensational defensive effort that caused 18 Kennesaw State turnovers –15 in the first half alone – and kept the Owls off the scoreboard for the first six-and-a-half minutes of the game. The Dolphins led by 17 points in the first half and used a 12-0 run in the second half to open up a 54-38 cushion. KSU, playing for its tournament life, refused to go away though. The Owls cut their deficit all the way down to one on a Delbert Love desperation three-pointer with 12 seconds remaining. After Jacksonville hit one of two at the charity stripe, Kennesaw State had a three-pointer to win it, but the Dolphins contested the shot well and it bounced away off the front rim. The 71-69 win came without Jacksonville trailing the entire contest, the first time JU has done that since a 74-68 victory over Mercer on Feb. 20, 2011. Javon Dawson and Jarvis Haywood each scored 14 points for the Dolphins, while Keith McDougald scored the final seven JU points and ended the night with 13.
With FGCU stumbling on the road to Lipscomb, Mercer could have wrapped up the No. 1 seed on Thursday if the Bears had taken care of business against North Florida. Instead, they’ve been forced to wait and hope that they can produce a victory on Senior Day to lock up the top seed and home-court advantage throughout the tournament. Langston Hall is the undisputed leader of the team, scoring 15.5 points per game and topping the A-Sun in assists per game (5.6) and free throw percentage (.865). Daniel Coursey is second on the team with 9.9 points per game and is the league-leader in blocks with 2.0 rejections per contest. A testament to the health of the team throughout the season, the Bears have started Hall, Coursey, Jakob Gollon, Bud Thomas and Anthony White, Jr. in all 30 of their games.
Though there is a chance the two teams could meet in the conference tournament, Saturday is the last scheduled contest in the long-standing rivalry between Jacksonville and Mercer as the Bears will be moving into the Southern Conference beginning in 2014-15. The two teams have played each other 52 times beginning in the 1963-64 season, with JU holding a 31-21 all-time lead in the series. The earlier matchup this season resulted in an 86-49 victory for Mercer, handing the Dolphins their lone loss at Swisher Gym on the year. A 31-29 contest nearing halftime, the Bears ended the first half on a 10-0 run to go up by 12 at the break, then continued their offensive fireworks in the second half.
A full recap and breakdown of the conference tournament will be posted on Saturday evening.