Dolphins rolling into "Free Friday" matchup against ETSU

Jan. 21, 2008

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Riding a six-game winning streak and sitting atop the Atlantic Sun Conference standings, the Dolphins face preseason favorite East Tennessee State with a lot on the line.

Aiding the Dolphins effort is the MPS Group, who has bought out the house - giving everyone free parking and admission to the Friday night contest, with tipoff set for 7:30 p.m. Concessions are also on sale at the Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena, with sodas, chips and hot dogs going for a dollar each.

"I want to thank the MPS Group for their generous investment in making this event open to everyone," said JU director of athletics Alan Verlander. "It is an exciting time with both of our basketball programs doing well and we are fortunate to have corporate partners step up to help our program."

The Dolphins (9-8, 5-0 A-Sun) have tied the school record for the best start in conference play, equaling the feat accomplished by the 1986-87 squad in the Sun Belt Conference. While JU may be a surprise team atop the standings, ETSU (9-9, 3-2) was picked to win the league before the season started and is in the thick of the chase.

People are recognizing the recent surge by the Dolphins that is courtesy of one of the most difficult schedules in school history. JU played seven games on the road in December against some of the toughest teams in the country, most notably Michigan State, Georgetown and Florida.

Despite losing all seven games during that stretch, the Dolphins have come out on the other side like Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption. Since the beginning of the new year, JU has won six straight and is back above .500 for the first time since the beginning of December.

Those games against tough competition have made this young squad, which features just four upperclassmen, battle hardened and ready for the rigors of conference play.

"The schedule was built to give our young guys experience in tough environments so they would be prepared for the conference schedule," said JU head coach Cliff Warren. "We would have liked some wins during that stretch, but those games drew us closer as a team and helped mold this group into the team we are today.

"But, we are by no means where we want to be yet. This group still has a lot of improvement to make. It's nice to be getting recognition, but we haven't won anything yet. We still have to focus one game at a time and not get too far ahead of ourselves."

Heads are turning across the country. On Sunday night, JU head coach Cliff Warren was featured on the Comcast Sports-Southeast show "Talkin' Hoops" and discussed the upcoming contest against ETSU. The Friday night contest is the A-Sun "Game of the Week" and will be televised on Comcast Sports-Southeast.

JU has also been featured on ESPN's weekly "Bracketology" feature, recently being seeded 16th and going to Omaha, Neb., to face top-seeded Kansas in the first round.