THURSDAY, JANUARY 03, 2008
Dolphins rally to claim triple overtime marathon over Stetson, 98-94

Jan. 3, 2008

Final Stats

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The JU men's basketball team opened Atlantic Sun Conference play in stunning fashion, rallying from a 19-point deficit to force overtime before prevailing 98-94 over Stetson in three overtimes.

The Dolphins (4-8, 1-0 A-Sun) got a career-high 33 points from Ben Smith as JU snapped an eight-game losing streak. Smith hit 10-of-17 from the floor and 11-of-15 from the free throw line in 50 minutes of action.

Freshman Ayron Hardy had a career night as well, scoring 14 points and pulling down 15 rebounds for the first double-double of his career.

"I'm really proud of how hard our guys fought to get back into the game," said JU head coach Cliff Warren. "We didn't a lot of things right early, but we kept our focus and played hard the entire game, which gave us a chance to win it late."

Getting to overtime was no small task for Jacksonville. The Dolphins erased a seven-point deficit in the final 60 seconds of regulation, capping the spurt with a pair of Smith free throws with 34 seconds remaining.

"We knew we had to fight," said JU point guard Ben Smith. "In the huddles in the first half and when we into halftime, we knew we were down but it was still early. We couldn't open up conference like that."

In the first overtime, with the Dolphins trailing by one, Smith went to the free throw line with 30 seconds left and a chance to put JU on top. He made one out of two, snapping a streak of 22 straight free throws made. Evan Jefferson's 3-point try at the horn was off the mark, forcing a second overtime.

JU dominated the opening three minutes of the second overtime, taking a six-point lead, 87-81, on a pair of Hardy free throws.

The Hatters (4-10, 0-1 A-Sun) answered with some heroics of their own. After a pair of Kris Thomas free throws cut the lead to four, Stetson got a JU turnover and a 3-pointer by Brandon Williams to cut the lead to one with 47 seconds remaining.

Marcus Allen followed with a layup for JU to take a 3-point lead, but Williams threw in a 3-pointer from deep to tie the game at 89 with nine seconds left and force a third overtime.

In the third overtime, JU slowly but surely built a six-point lead with 36 seconds remaining - using layups by Smith, Jefferson and a 15-foot jumper by Hardy.

But the Hatters tried to pull some more magic out, as Thomas hit a 3-pointer with 27 seconds left to cut the lead to three, 96-93.

Smith hit just 1-of-2 at the free throw line, but the Hatters had run out of magic and the Dolphins were able to hang on for the 98-94 win.

When the dust had finally settled, the game featured seven ties and seven lead changes, along with the two teams combining for 69 fouls. Stetson had five players foul out while JU had two foul out.

Stetson had five players in double figures, led by Garfield Blair's 20 in 35 minutes. The Hatters leading scorer fouled out in regulation, the last being an offensive foul with 1:27 left in the game.

Joining Blair in double figures was A.J. Smith with 17, Kris Thomas and Eric Diaz off the bench with 15 and 12 respectively. Sheldon Oliver had 10 points as well.

Blair led the Hatters in rebounds with eight.

The Dolphins opened the game by scoring eight points in the first 12 minutes and trailed 27-8 with 8:30 left in the opening half.

The Dolphins started their comeback there, cutting the deficit to 13 at the half. Jacksonville kept the momentum going early in the second half, going on a 21-4 run to take a 47-43 lead on Hardy dunk with 12:18 left in regulation.

Stetson rallied again, eventually taking a 10-point lead, 71-61, on a pair of Blair free throws with 3:18 left in regulation.

The Dolphins finished the game with four players in double figures, with Lehmon Colbert joining the duo of Smith and Hardy with 18 points and eight rebounds. Evan Jefferson added 13 points in his third career start.

Jacksonville's comeback marked just the second time the Dolphins had rallied from a halftime deficit this season and the largest halftime deficit overcome in four years.

JU returns to the floor on Saturday to face A-Sun newcomer Florida Gulf Coast at the Arena. Tipoff is set for 3:30 p.m.