Jacksonville, FLA — On a day when Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow, the UNF men’s basketball team finally stepped out of a shadow of its own. UNF ended a four game losing steak and beat the Hatters of Stetson, 64-59.
After a dismal first half resulted in a 12 point halftime deficit, the Ospreys (9-15, 4-7 A-sun) tore out of the locker room and ignited a 13-0 run to take the lead, holding Stetson (9-13, 6-5 A-sun) scoreless for nearly six minutes.
“To me as a coach, there is nothing better in the world than shooting 32 percent from the field and winning pretty comfortably,” head coach Matthew Driscoll said.
UNF was February cold from the field in the first half, shooting 31 percent, while the Hatters shot 50 percent.
Senior Parker Smith who scored 33 points the last time the teams met, was kept in check by swarming defense, and finished the game 2-13 from the field. Smith still managed to put up 17 points by making use of the free throw line, where he was a perfect 11 for 11.
Junior Travis Wallace led the team in more than one aspect on Saturday night. His energy and vocal leadership kept the team’s head in the game when the Ospreys fell behind by 19 points midway though the first half. His presence inside and perfect shooting from the line (6-6) were key in UNF’s second half run. Wallace finished the game with 18 points to lead all scorers.
“I realized that things weren’t going well for us in the last four games and somebody had to step up vocally, not just playing on the floor,” Wallace said. “Somebody had to be the one to tell us to get stops and make sure everybody knows where they are supposed to be and today it happened to be me.”
UNF finished the game strong from the charity stripe. In the second half the team shot 81 percent (17-21) and hit its last 13 attempts.
Driscoll said that one of the keys in the comeback was that UNF was able to get consecutive stops when Stetson had a big lead, keeping it within striking distance.
In the midst of the UNF comeback early in the second half, freshman Beau Beech collided heads with senior David Jeune, sending Beech to the floor briefly. Beech was able to regain his wits shortly after and hit a three-point shot in transition that gave UNF its first lead of the game, 36-35 four minutes into the second half.
“[The Stetson defender] kept turning his hips so I knew he couldn’t contest the shot,” Beech said. “I practice it a lot, so it felt pretty natural.”
Beech finished the game with 9 points and 6 rebounds.
UNF started the game playing a zone defense, but after multiple baseline scores and a 12-2 opening run, Driscoll switched to man-to-man defense and played zone sparingly. Stetson was 0 for 11 from behind the 3-point line in the second half.
When UNF switched from zone to man, Driscoll chose to front Stetson’s big man Adam Pegg and limited his effectiveness. Pegg was held to 11 points and 3 rebounds. Stetson’s Willie Green finished with a double-double — 17 points and 11 rebounds.
UNF jumped Lipscomb in the conference standings and now sit alone in 8th place.
The Ospreys will hit the road for a three-game swing, beginning at Kennesaw State Thurs. Feb. 7.