Macon Miracles: Ospreys advance to A-Sun Championship

Spinnaker

MACON, Ga – The No. 6 seed UNF men’s basketball team advanced to its first ever Atlantic Sun Championship game Friday night as they defeated the No. 2 seeded East Tennessee State Buccaneers, 59-55, inside the Mercer University Center.

The Ospreys seem to be a team of destiny. They are playing their best basketball of the season at the right time – the postseason. They have now won five straight. UNF head coach Matthew Driscoll has preached playing for championship to his players. Now they are living his words.

“These young men when recruited were promised to become graduates, to become great fathers, great husbands, great people, and then to play for championships,” Driscoll said. “We believe in that whole heartedly. After Belmont smacked us, Jerron [Granberry] would say, I told these guys we were going to play [Belmont] for the A-Sun championship. What that means is these guys believe.”

The Ospreys will in fact meet Belmont in the championship game Saturday night, after the Bruins escaped with an 80-72 win over Mercer.

The win over ETSU is UNF’s first in program history. The win also marks just the second Atlantic-Sun Tournament win in team history. The first came Thursday when they defeated Jacksonville University, 68-64.

UNF led, 31-27, at halftime, however, ETSU went in to the break with the momentum. They scored seven of the first half’s last nine points to cut into the Osprey lead. However, the Ospreys came out strong to start the second half. Sophomore guard Parker Smith hit a 3-pointer with 13:16 left to play to give the Ospreys a 41-33 lead and all of the momentum.

The Ospreys did something Driscoll had preached all season long – work as a team or in Driscoll’s words “share the sugar.” UNF had 12 assists on their 18 field goals, helping the Ospreys to have four guys score in double figures.

“I really think the one thing that we’re good at is being teammates,” Driscoll said. “Everybody has their night and tonight it was a whole bunch of different guys.”

The Buccaneers had one last surge in them. ETSU used an 8-2 run to come within two points at 52-50, with three minutes left to play. However, Granberry made the shot of the game when he drained a 3-pointer with 1:59 to play, giving the Ospreys some breathing room. After hitting two 3-pointers in the first four minutes of the game, Granberry had struggled for most of the game until that big shot.

“I thought I was going to go hot when I hit my first two out of three,” Granberry said. “Just to get that basket and put us up it was just a big relief off my shoulders.”

Just like Thursday night when sophomore forward Andy Diaz made big plays down low, Friday night is was sophomore forward David Jeune. Jeune grabbed the game’s clinching rebound and made three out of four free throws in the closing seconds to secure a trip to the championship for the Ospreys.

Jeune led the Ospreys with a double double, scoring 13 points and grabbing 11 rebounds. Smith tied Jeune with 13, while Diaz and Granberry added 11 and 10 points respectively.

ETSU was led by the Atlantic Sun Player of the Year, senior guard Mike Smith, who scored 20 points for the Bucs.

It is fitting that the Ospreys will face another team they haven’t beaten this season in the championship. UNF was swept in the regular season by both JU and ETSU, losing a pair of games to each. With Driscoll’s prediction coming to fruition, he definitely has his team believing.

“It’s kind of scary, now you think coach is like a prophet,” said sophomore guard Jerron Granberry. “I think at the beginning of the year we were kind of like what is this guys talking about? But now we actually believe. And we’re not just happy to be in the championship. We want to win it and we want to advance to the NCAA Tournament.”

UNF plays Belmont Saturday night inside the Mercer University Center at 6 p.m. The game will be nationally televised on ESPN 2.