Men’s Basketball Hosts East Tennessee State in First of Two “Sea Best Free Nights”
Jarvis Haywood
Jarvis Haywood

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - With just a handful of games left in the regular season, the Jacksonville University men’s basketball team is looking to gain ground in the race leading up to the Atlantic Sun Tournament. The Dolphins (9-16, 5-9 Atlantic Sun) will get a chance to bid farewell to a three-game losing streak on Thursday night back in the friendly confines of Swisher Gymnasium as Jacksonville shows off the dazzling renovation of the main lobby while hosting the East Tennessee State Buccaneers (16-12, 9-6 A-Sun) at 7:15 p.m. following the conclusion of an important women’s basketball contest between JU and Florida Gulf Coast. The doubleheader is the first of two straight Free Games, brought to you courtesy of Sea Best Seafoord. Scott Manze and Artis Gilmore will call the action on 92.5 FM and ASun.TV.

Since a win over Florida Gulf Coast on Jan. 11 that capped a three-game winning streak and put the team at 4-2 in the A-Sun, Jacksonville has dropped seven out of eight and will look to break out of the spiral against one of the teams that added to its problems. In a breathlessly entertaining game in which it seemed for certain that the team with the last possession would come away with the win, a bank shot from Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard in the final 10 seconds gave ETSU the 76-75 victory on Jan. 25 in Johnson City. The final look came from the top of the key from Vince Martin. Though it was contested, the graduate point guard had it heading straight on line from the moment it left his hand, unfortunately the Bucs defenders made it tough enough for him that it landed on the front rim and bounced off, allowing ETSU to escape.

Offense hasn’t been the issue in JU’s struggles. Even in this 1-7 slide, the Dolphins are averaging 76.3 points a game. The flip side of that coin is that Jacksonville hasn’t been able to contain its opponents, giving up 82.3 points in that time. One way for JU to limit the opposition is to win the battle on the boards. The first time these two met, the Dolphins cleaned the glass by a 40-29 margin, led by Javon Dawson’s 12 points and 10 rebounds. Without those second chances, ETSU let a 14-point lead slip away and trailed by five in the second half before mounting its comeback.

Winners of five of its last six contests, East Tennessee State travels to Jacksonville on a tear that rivals anyone in the Atlantic Sun. Their recent stretch of play has lifted the Bucs into a tie for third place in the conference standings alongside USC Upstate. Rashawn Rembert is the top 3-point shooter in the A-Sun this season – connecting on .435 of his attempts – and comes into the weekend ranked second in the conference in scoring at 16.5 points per game. Jalen Riley provides a spark off the bench, averaging 12.5 points a game despite shooting less than 37 percent from the floor. Undersized forward A.J. Merriweather leads the team in rebounding at 6.5 per game despite standing at just 6-foot-2.

As one of the longer road trips in the Atlantic Sun for Jacksonville to make, it stands to reason that Thursday could be the final contest between the two schools for the foreseeable future. The Bucs leave the Atlantic Sun for the Southern Conference in 2014-15, and the Dolphins probably aren’t all too sad to see them go. ETSU has a 13-6 lead in the all-time series with JU, the only team currently in the A-Sun that can claim an edge over the Dolphins.

Jacksonville says goodbye to Dawson, Martin, Keith McDougald and RJ Slawson as they hit the hardwood of Swisher Gym for the final time this season on Feb. 22. USC Upstate provides the Senior Day opposition and tip is scheduled for 3:15 p.m.