JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Always one of the biggest games on the Jacksonville University men’s basketball schedule, Friday night’s game with the North Florida Ospreys takes on special significance with each team just a half-game removed from the top of the Atlantic Sun standings. The latest edition of the River City Rumble is set for 7 p.m. at UNF Arena with Scott Manze and Artis Gilmore alongside for the call on 92.5 FM. The game will be televised on CSS and ESPN3 will simulcast the game online as well.
Winners of three in a row and four of its last five, Jacksonville (8-9, 4-2 A-Sun) is rolling into the weekend behind an offense that has found another gear in conference play. Since the beginning of the New Year, the Dolphins have averaged 80.8 points per game, and both Jarvis Haywood and Keith McDougald have scored more than 18 points a game over that span.
Benefitting from expanded playing time, RJ Slawson has been a beast inside for the Dolphins as of late. The transfer from South Carolina has put up 11.6 points, 7.4 rebounds and 3.2 blocks in the last five games, while J.R. Holder has exploded off the bench since the Kennesaw State game, shooting .714 from the field and averaging 8.6 points in just 15.6 minutes of action.
It’s not just the offense that is making things click for the Dolphins though. Defensively, JU has forced nearly 15 turnovers a game in Atlantic Sun tilts and decreased its points allowed per game by nearly seven points from its non-conference average. Jacksonville has been getting it done on the glass too, posting a +3.0 rebounding margin in the last five contests.
North Florida (10-9, 4-2 A-Sun) began A-Sun play by running out to a 3-0 start before stumbling with a pair of losses to Northern Kentucky and Florida Gulf Coast. The Ospreys recovered to defeat Stetson last Saturday and bring an identical league mark as JU into the game on Friday night. Freshman point guard Dallas Moore paces the team’s offense with 12.4 points per game, while preseason All-Atlantic Sun selection Travis Wallace scores 11.7 ppg and is second in the conference at 7.2 rebounds per game. Beau Beech is the main marksman in the UNF attack, knocking down 39 3-pointers on the season at a .371 clip. While Jacksonville dealt with the effects of injuries early on this year and is finally now rounding into form, UNF has had very little change in its lineup from day one. Moore, Wallace and Beech have started all 19 games for the Ospreys, while Charles McRoy (7.3 ppg) and Chris Davenport (6.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg) have each made 18 starts and played every time out.
Of course bragging rights come into play any time these teams get together and with a season sweep in 2012-13, Jacksonville is currently the team with something to crow about. Behind 17 points from Javon Dawson and 14 from McDougald, the Dolphins hung with the Ospreys early on in the game last season at UNF Arena and then closed out with an 8-0 run in the last two minutes to silence the crowd and return home with a 77-68 victory. Since UNF transitioned up from Division II prior to the 2004-05 season, the Dolphins have won 15 of 19 meetings between the two sides. Cliff Warren has been on the sidelines for 14 of those victories, and holds a 7-3 edge over his UNF counterpart, Matthew Driscoll.
Jacksonville will continue a three-game road trip next week as the Dolphins challenge the USC Upstate Spartans on Jan. 23 at 7:30 p.m. They’ll then close out the weekend set with a trip to Johnson City, Tenn. to meet the East Tennessee State Buccaneers on Jan. 25 at 4 p.m. The matchup with Upstate will be streamed on ESPN3, while ASun.TV will have coverage of the ETSU game.