JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It's only fitting that making history has been the impromptu theme all season long for Jacksonville University women's basketball. The #2 Dolphins set a new single-season program record with its 24th win en route to an 83-77 decision in overtime over #6 North Florida, Wednesday evening at Swisher Gym. With their second appearance in the ASUN Tournament Final in three years, the Dolphins (24-7) travel to #1 Florida Gulf Coast for the ASUN title game on Sunday, March 11 at 3 p.m.
"First of all, North Florida came out and played exactly how I thought they were going to play – with a lot of energy, like they had nothing to lose – and they did that. I'm more proud of my team because we could have given up. Everything was going in their favor and we prevailed … and found a way to have success," stated Head Coach Yolett McPhee-McCuin.
To some, an upset looked on the horizon as the Ospreys led by as many as 10, 68-58, with 3:59 left in regulation. However, those who understand McCuin's "No Ceilings" philosophy, less than four minutes was plenty of time to stage a comeback. A dramatic ending followed, as Jacksonville allowed just four points from North Florida en route to a 14-4 rally highlighted by senior Brandi Buie's game-tying free throws with 14 seconds remaining to send the game into overtime tied at 72.
The Dolphins left no doubt in extra time, despite the Ospreys coming within two, 76-74, with 1:48 to go. Buie's four points thereafter served as the catalyst to put the game away, beginning with a layup with 0:59 remaining.
With the visitors coming down the floor, Buie swatted the ball away from an Osprey guard and was fouled. She then drained both free throws to give the Dolphins a six-point lead with 23 seconds on the clock. At the end of the overtime, Jacksonville doubled up the Ospreys 11-5 and finished 7-of-10 at the free throw line to put the game away, 83-77.
Four players finished with double figures to pace the Dolphins' 55.6 shooting percentage from the floor as seniors Kayla Gordon and Naqiayyah Teague posted 17 points each, while Buie and junior Jasmyn Brown recorded 15 points apiece.
Gordon also controlled the boards for Jacksonville with eight rebounds.
"I'm just so proud of our seniors, I'm proud of our team; the fact that we were able to make history for the program; I'm just overwhelmed with joy right now," McCuin added. "At the end of the day, we held them to five points in overtime, that's what we needed to do. We felt confident when we put the game into overtime."
The Dolphins ran out to a 7-0 lead to open the game and led by as many as nine, 13-4, with 5:26 on the clock. Jacksonville took a 15-12 lead into the second after the Ospreys (13-18) chipped away at JU's lead with the final two baskets of the quarter.
A quick 5-0 run to start the second on a layup from Teague and a three-pointer from Brown pushed the Dolphins to a 20-12 lead. North Florida came back with a three of their own, but junior Shakayla Nevitt answered back on the next trip down the floor with a shot from beyond the arc to extend JU's advantage to 23-15 with 7:28 to go before halftime.
Jacksonville again led by nine twice – 26-17 at the 5:29 mark and 28-19 with 4:29 showing – but the visitors worked their way back within three, 32-29, at halftime.
An 8-0 run in the third quarter pushed the lead to 45-36 for North Florida at the 4:36 mark, but Jacksonville refused to give up. Gordon finished a pair of free throws and Buie rebounded her own foul shot and laid the ball back in to bring the Dolphins within three before UNF pushed its lead back to six, 55-49, heading into the final quarter.
Keonna Farmer posted 23 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Ospreys, while Tiffany Tolbert added 19 points and four assists.
Added McCuin, "Sometimes it's harder to get to the championship than to win the championship. I'm glad that we had an opportunity to get tested, so now we're battle-tested. Now it changes because the pressure is on Florida Gulf Coast, and we're just going to go in there and do what we do."
The Dolphins head to Fort Myers, Fla. take on #1 FGCU for the ASUN Championship this Sunday, March 11. Opening tipoff is set for 3 p.m.