MACON, Ga. – Trailing by as many as 18 points in the second half and with their Atlantic Sun Tournament fate already decided, the Jacksonville University men’s basketball team could have packed it in and called it a day on Saturday at Mercer’s Hawkins Arena. Instead, the Dolphins sent a message. Storming back from a 44-26 deficit to close within 53-51, Jacksonville (12-17, 8-10 A-Sun) showed it was capable of playing with the A-Sun co-champions. Though Mercer (23-8, 14-4 A-Sun) closed strong and came away with a 69-55 victory, the Dolphins aren’t done with the Bears just yet. As the No. 7 seed in the A-Sun Tournament, Jacksonville and Mercer will battle again in a little more than 72 hours, meeting on Tuesday night at 7 p.m.
With seven seniors on the roster playing their final regular season home game for Mercer, the emotions were running high for the Bears early on, and they got off to a 7-0 run out of the gates before Javon Dawson knocked down a 15-foot jumper.
As it was when the teams met in December, this was a game of runs. Jacksonville had the deficit down to three at 17-14, only for the Bears to take off on a 7-0 spurt for a 24-14 edge. Coming out of the under-eight media timeout, the Dolphins answered back with a 7-0 run of their own to make it 24-21 with J.R. Holder providing five points. Jacksonville could have pulled even closer, but one of its 14 first half turnovers came back to haunt them and Daniel Coursey scored on the other end to halt the comeback. His bucket began a 12-0 stretch that bridged both halves, ultimately giving Mercer a 36-21 lead at the 18-minute mark of the second half.
Jacksonville would finally end the run with a pair of Jarvis Haywood free throws, but the lead grew to 18 when Bud Thomas scored five points in quick succession, putting the Bears up, 44-26. Back on offense, Vince Martin splashed a three-pointer to get the JU offense going, kicking off a 25-9 run that brought JU back to within two. The Dolphins went 5-of-7 from long-range in their rally, ending with a soft Keith McDougald floater over the outstretched arms of Coursey along the baseline to make it 53-51 with 5:48 remaining.
Without much working on offense for Mercer, the Bears hit the boards hard to earn the victory. Jakob Gollon missed a jumper in response to McDougald’s bucket, but Coursey was there for an offensive rebound. Drawing a foul, Coursey then went to the line where he hit the first but missed the second, only for Thomas to get the offensive board and hit a three for a 57-51 lead. Following a JU turnover, Gollon back-doored his way for a hoop, upping the lead to eight and forcing a Jacksonville timeout. Dawson muscled his way inside to score out of the stoppage in action, momentarily slicing the Mercer lead back down to six, but that was as close as the Dolphins would get the rest of the way. The Bears repeatedly got to the line down the stretch, and made 8-of-12 at the stripe inside the final four minutes.
Haywood led the Dolphins on the afternoon with 13 points. Holder added 10, the only bench points Jacksonville had in the game. RJ Slawson had a team-high eight rebounds, while Martin dished out five assists.
All four A-Sun quarterfinals will be played on Tuesday night. The other game in Jacksonville’s half of the bracket is the 3-6 contest between USC Upstate and North Florida. That game will be held at the Hodge Center in Spartanburg, S.C. The upper half of the bracket features Stetson going to Florida Gulf Coast, and Lipscomb traveling to East Tennessee State.
- Jacksonville’s 21 turnovers were the most committed by the Dolphins in a conference game this season, and second only to the 25 the team had in its season-opener at Florida State.
- Though Mercer leads the Atlantic Sun in rebounding margin, Jacksonville had a five-rebound advantage on the glass.
- This was the fifth road game of the season in which Jacksonville had a comeback of 16 or more points. At Wake Forest on Nov. 18, the Dolphins trailed by 16 points in the first half and eventually led by a point in the second half. Moving into conference play, JU was down 20 at USC Upstate on Jan. 23 and pulled within three of the Spartans. Two days later at East Tennessee State, Jacksonville dug itself a 14-point hole late in the first half before rallying to lead by five. On Feb. 8, JU faced a 24-point deficit at Stetson and got as close as three. On Saturday, Mercer led 44-26 with 15 minutes remaining. By just inside of six minutes, the Dolphins had that lead down to two.
- The 13 points that Jarvis Haywood scored were tied for the fewest by a single-game JU scoring leader this season. The other time that 13 points led JU in a game was in its loss to Mercer on Dec. 30. Javon Dawson was the scoring leader for the Dolphins on that day.