MONDAY, JUNE 16, 2014
Top 10 JUDolphins Moments of 2013-14: #10

Jacksonville’s Top 10 Moments of 2013-14: #10

Our summer series begins with the men’s basketball team as they dominated Florida Gulf Coast on the way to a 76-69 win at Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena on Jan. 11, 2014.

Every year, the 19 athletic programs of Jacksonville University travel across the country to represent the school on their respective fields of play. With so many events throughout the year, it can sometimes be difficult to take the time to appreciate a particularly satisfying win. Beginning today and throughout the next month, we’ll reflect on the past year and pick out the Top 10 Jacksonville sports moments from 2013-14. We hope you have as much fun taking a look back as we did debating on who would make the cut.

It’s not a particularly bold statement to say that Cinderellas have made the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament the spectacle that it has turned into through the years. Even in today’s saturated media landscape, small-conference teams have a way of sneaking under the radar for months, only to pop up on a bracket in March and become a nationwide topic of conversation with 40 minutes of inspired play.

Since the tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985 and created a matchup between a 15- and a 2-seed, the 15-seed has advanced to the Round of 32 on only seven occasions. But as proof of the change occurring in the game, three of those upsets have come in the last three seasons. The last team to do pull off the feat then did something that no 15-seed had ever done before, winning the next time out as well and moving on to the Sweet 16.

In March of 2013, two wins in three days turned Florida Gulf Coast from a school few had heard of outside of the state into a household name for anyone who follows sports. The FGCU website received so much traffic that it crashed. A few innocuous tweets turned into a worldwide trend. Things blew up for the school in a way that’s almost impossible to fathom if you look back even a single decade.

So how do you follow that up? Florida Gulf Coast came into this past season as the preseason favorite to repeat as Atlantic Sun champions and with the largest target on its back that an A-Sun school has ever had. Despite the heavy burden of expectations, the Eagles rattled off four straight wins to open conference play and came to Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena on Jan. 11 alone atop the league standings.

Meanwhile, Jacksonville came into the contest having shaken off a tough start to the season and shown signs of coming together nicely following an injury-filled non-conference slate. Winners of three of four entering the day, the Dolphins had scored more than 85 points in the three victories, and were a late Northern Kentucky charge away from a four-game winning streak of their own.

Perhaps the person with the most to play for that day was Keith McDougald, and with good reason. Not only had the senior set career highs in points (27) and assists (seven) two days prior against Stetson – his point total also boosted him above 1,000 points for his career – but a first half incident a year before in Swisher Gym against Florida Gulf Coast had controversially ended the then-junior’s day early after he had scored 10 of JU’s first 17 points.

A three-pointer from McDougald opened the scoring in the game after 15 seconds, continuing his hot shooting from the last game and setting the tone for the contest on the first possession. Florida Gulf Coast managed to hang around thanks to 11 points from Chase Fieler in the first half, but all nine Dolphins who played had at least two points in the first 20 minutes and freshman J.R. Holder was on fire, scoring nine points in 11 minutes and not missing a shot. Two free throws from Marcel White gave JU a 17-16 lead after seven minutes of action and the Dolphins would not trail again. A pair of free throws from McDougald in the final 30 seconds gave Jacksonville a 42-35 edge at the break.

Starting the second half out the exact same way as the first, a McDougald three-ball put Jacksonville up by double-digits for the first time in the opening minute after halftime. Four minutes later, another triple from Vince Martin gave the Dolphins their largest lead at 55-42. JU would make just nine field goals in the second half, but six were behind the arc to keep FGCU at arm’s length.

Following Martin’s three-pointer, the Eagles used a timeout to regroup. Coming out of the break in action, Florida Gulf Coast immediately responded with a 10-2 burst to slice the lead back down to five, 57-52, with just under 10 minutes to play. A subsequent turnover by the Dolphins led to a run-out by the Eagles, but RJ Slawson was there to block Eric McKnight’s dunk attempt in transition. It was that sort of day for Slawson, who showed that he could be dominating in the Atlantic Sun after coming to JU from South Carolina. He ended the afternoon with nine points, 12 rebounds and three huge blocks on the FGCU big men.

That block sparked a quick 12-4 response from the Dolphins to re-establish their 13-point lead from earlier in the half, making it 69-56 with less than five minutes remaining. Florida Gulf Coast would close to within five in the final two minutes, but six free throws down the home stretch gave JU the 76-69 victory.

For Jacksonville, its third straight win upped the team’s record to 8-9 and brought the Dolphins to within a half-game of the lead in the conference standings. Florida Gulf Coast slipped into a tie with Mercer for the top spot in the A-Sun with the loss and ultimately shared the regular season title with the Bears. Dreams of another NCAA Tournament run ended for the Eagles with a home loss to Mercer in the Atlantic Sun title game; though the Bears would go on to carry the conference’s banner proudly with its upset of Duke. FGCU’s season came to an end in the NIT with a 58-53 loss at Florida State.

Check in every Monday and Thursday for the next five weeks as we countdown Jacksonville’s Top 10 moments of 2013-14!

#10: Men’s Basketball Dominates Dunk City
#9: Coming June 19th
#8: Coming June 23rd
#7: Coming June 26th
#6: Coming June 30th
#5: Coming July 3rd
#4: Coming July 7th
#3: Coming July 10th
#2: Coming July 14th
#1: Coming July 17th