JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Jacksonville University men’s basketball team attempts to get its Atlantic Sun season off to a successful start on Monday night when the Dolphins (4-7) meet the Mercer Bears (9-4) at 7 p.m. inside Swisher Gym. The game is the first of six for JU in a span of 12 days as conference play rockets out of the gate. Scott Manze and Artis Gilmore will call the action on 92.5 FM and ASun.TV.
The return of Jarvis Haywood and Keith McDougald to the lineup was a welcome sight for Jacksonville last week. The high-scoring backcourt duo has been in and out of the lineup with nagging injuries early on this season, but the two combined for 24 points as they both suited up in the same game for only the fourth time on the year.
Jacksonville had its share of defensive struggles through non-conference play, but appears to have turned a corner with its dominating performance in a 61-47 shutdown of South Carolina State. The Dolphins held the Bulldogs to .320 shooting from the field and caused 20 turnovers for the second time this season. That kind of effort will be needed once again as JU goes up against a team leading the conference in several offensive categories.
Consistency has been key for Mercer throughout the non-conference season. The Bears have used the same starting five for all 13 games that they’ve played so far, and have had 12 players appear in at least 12 contests. Senior guard Langston Hall leads the team with 15.2 points and 5.3 assists per game. He’s also knocking down over more than 41 percent of his 3-point attempts. Providing some of the power down low is another senior, Daniel Coursey, who leads the team in rebounds (6.5) and averages 10.6 points per game. Mercer comes in at 2-4 in road games this season, but has knocked off Valparaiso and Ole Miss – NCAA Tournament teams last season – away from home.
The Dolphins will be trying to extend their 31-20 lead in the all-time series when the teams get together. Conference rivals for many years, the first meeting between the two programs came 50 years ago this month when Jacksonville claimed a 67-52 victory against Mercer on Dec. 9, 1963 in Swisher Gym. More recently, the series has grown extremely close. Over the last five years, JU and Mercer have split its regular season meetings. A year ago, Jacksonville won at the Veterans Memorial Arena, 49-47, before going on the road and suffering a 67-64 overtime loss in Macon, Ga.
Jacksonville will quickly return to action on Wednesday against the visiting Kennesaw State Owls. Tip time is set for 7 p.m. and will be the final regular season men’s basketball game of the season at Swisher Gym.