JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It’s one of the biggest games on the Jacksonville University men’s basketball calendar no matter where the teams fall in the standings. This season, both teams are fighting for the right to host at least one game in the upcoming Atlantic Sun conference tournament. The eyes of all A-Sun basketball fans will fall on Jacksonville Veterans Memorial Arena on Friday night as JU (9-15, 5-8 A-Sun) hosts North Florida (13-13, 7-6 A-Sun) at 7 p.m. CSS and ESPN3 will televise and stream the broadcast, and Scott Manze and Artis Gilmore have the call on 92.5 FM.
Jacksonville’s midseason slide can trace its roots back to the Jan. 17 game at UNF Arena. The Dolphins came in on a three-game winning streak and a week earlier had swept Stetson and Florida Gulf Coast at home. After a blistering first half in which they shot 60 percent from the field and took a 50-43 lead into halftime over the Ospreys, the shooting cooled off for JU in the second half. Behind 27 points and 19 rebounds from Travis Wallace, UNF rallied past Jacksonville and took an 86-82 decision. Beginning with that loss, JU has fallen in six of its last seven, dropping the Dolphins to the eighth spot in the conference.
The good news for Jacksonville is that the next three games will bring teams to town that can be caught in the league race. To do that, the Dolphins will first have to take care of business against the Ospreys and return the favor for the earlier defeat. While it will be a tall task, Jacksonville’s home record suggests that the team might be ready to go on a run. The Dolphins have gone 8-4 at home this season, including a 4-2 record in A-Sun games. They are shooting nine percent better both from behind the three-point arc and at the free throw line than in away games, and have outrebounded their opponents at home, compared to a -7.5 rebounding margin on the road.
North Florida’s win over JU back in January put the Ospreys at 5-2 in league play, but they’ve had some struggles since then. Most recently, Florida Gulf Coast handed UNF a 73-46 defeat in Fort Myers in which Wallace sustained an injury that limited the senior forward to only two minutes of action. If Wallace is limited, freshman Dallas Moore might have to pick up even more of the scoring load. Moore leads the team at 12.3 points per game – second-most among A-Sun freshmen – and knocks down a team-best .387 of his three-point attempts. Beau Beech is another deep threat, averaging 9.7 points per game and hitting .380 from long-range.
The backcourt duo of Jarvis Haywood and Keith McDougald were on full display last month when the two sides met for the first time. Haywood poured in a career-high 29 points, taking over the lead in the A-Sun scoring race, a throne he held until Stetson kept him to a relatively quiet nine points on Saturday and slipped him back to second behind USC Upstate’s Torrey Craig. McDougald also had 20 points in the contest and Vince Martin chipped in 13. Javon Dawson had his second double-double of the season that night with 10 points and 10 boards. Despite taking the loss that night, Jacksonville retains a 15-5 lead in the overall series between the two programs and has won eight of nine home games.
Friday is the first of three consecutive home games for the Dolphins. JU will close out its regular season home schedule next weekend, welcoming in East Tennessee State on Feb. 20 and hosting Senior Day against USC Upstate on Feb. 22.