And they’re off: UNF posts 23-point victory in conference opener

Jordan Ferrell

Pegged at No. 2 in the Atlantic Sun Conference, the University of North Florida Ospreys answered the conference opener on Jan. 10 with a resounding 86-63 victory over cross-town rivals, the Jacksonville University Dolphins.

You could strike sparks anywhere in the Veterans Memorial Arena as both fans and players alike were eager to begin the real season – the 14-game hunt leading up to the A-Sun Championship – which will inevitably determine the team that gets the golden ticket to ride. That’s right, the prestigious invitation to the NCAA Championship, which is what college basketball and the month of March are all about.

In a predominantly Dolphin-controlled first half, the Ospreys (9-9) struggled from the three-point range. Knocking on the door a total of 11 times in the first 20 minutes, the boys in blue were only successful twice. Usual hot-hand for the Ospreys, Dallas Moore, struggled to find his groove early on, going just 2-7 in field goals. While laboring to find their rhythm, Chris Davenport, the Ospreys’ starting forward, held the Dolphins (6-12) at bay with a total of five rebounds before half time.

Both of JU’s new additions – Andris Misters, Latvian transfer, and Kori Babineaux, junior,– seemed to have no problem finding open space in the first half, exploiting a sluggish Osprey defense that allowed four fast breaks in the paint. UNF’s defense would promptly shape up after the half.

Jasick

The Ospreys, after a brief visit to the locker rooms, came out looking like a different team when they hit the floor. Up by four at the start of the second half, UNF went on a nine-point run within the first two minutes. The Ospreys would not relinquish that advantage, leading the Dolphins by as much as 27 points before the game ended. Moore led the offensive attack for the Ospreys, going 3-6 from beyond the arc and tallying a total of 20 points for the game, 13 of those in the second half. Another notable Osprey performance was Demarcus Daniels, junior, who came off the bench to join the other three double-digit scorers with a contribution of 16 points for the game.

Tony Jasick, the Dolphin’s new head coach who took the position at JU just last April, had no answer to the offensive output of the Ospreys in those final 20 minutes and struggled to attribute what went wrong to one specific detail.

“We’re really disappointed in the way we came out,” Jasick said. “Even though we didn’t play a clean first half, we were in position to make a run and make it a ball game and we came out the second half and didn’t have energy and didn’t have attention to detail.”

Whether it was inexperience or lack of energy, Jasick was clearly frustrated with the way things ended. The Dolphins had 16 turnovers for the game, which the Ospreys capitalized on for a total of 22 points. Despite the loss, J. R. Holder, JU junior, had a career-game recording his first double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds.

Turnovers are something the Ospreys have been struggling with over the course of the preseason. On Saturday afternoon UNF showed definite improvement in that area, giving up just nine points on a total of 10 miscues.

“Ten is great with nine assists – I’m shocked,” UNF Head Coach Matthew Driscoll said. “Only ten turnovers, to me, is phenomenal. Hopefully we can grow from this and keep getting better.”

Driscoll

This preseason was the longest to date – going from 13 games last season to 17 – as the Atlantic Sun Conference shrank in size with the departure of Mercer and East Tennessee State. Driscoll expressed how his team was “sick and tired” of the preseason and anxious to get the ball rolling on the conference matchups. It will be interesting to see if that four nonconference game increase will affect the output of the team down the stretch.

With six road-games left after the 13 they have already packed in, Driscoll has faith in the resiliency of his team as the season trudges forward. The Ospreys have managed to win five of those away matches, with the biggest one being the upset of Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind.

The Ospreys will have only a couple of days to rest up and recollect on their opening victory as they prepare to face conference favorite and possibly the toughest competitor in the A-Sun, the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (11-6). FGCU also won their first conference matchup against Stetson on Saturday, 72-50.

The showdown between the two top seeds in the A-Sun is set to tip-off at 7 p.m. on Wednesday in the UNF Arena. Both teams will be in the hunt, as this game will say a lot for whoever comes away with the ‘W’ in the stat column. Likewise, this game will be of equal importance to the rest of the teams in the conference in terms of preparation going forward. The home-court advantage may be of relevance to the Ospreys’ game plan, as the Eagles are just 1-4 in away matches this season.

Basketball can be a cruel and strange sport though, where games come down to the wire and are occasionally determined by a last-second-shot from the +16-point, unranked opponent that tempted you to wager your entire pay check, because you knew it was a “safe” bet. Well, the fact is there are no safe bets in this sport and more tears have been spilt on the hardwood than you can shake a mop at. And that’s why we love it.

*1/12/2015 at 12:01 p.m. – Updated with video.

Gallery photos by Camille Shaw

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For more information or if you see an error in this story or have any compliments/concerns, contact Jordan Ferrell [email protected].