Preview: UNF set to face North Alabama in ASUN quarterfinal

John Watson, Sports Editor

Featured Image: Justin Nedrow

The regular season has ended for all nine ASUN conference teams, and the annual conference tournament is just hours away. As UNF laces up their basketball shoes and warms up their deep shots, there’s more than meets the eye coming into their quarterfinal matchup against North Alabama.

In a season filled with uncertainty, UNF and the Jacksonville community have seen their fair share of unique moments in the last few months. For starters, UNF did not play a single home game in the month of February, something that has never happened in Osprey Division I program history.

Logistical struggles have made scheduling games an impressive feat this year, as UNF was unable to play any games against ASUN foes Bellarmine and FGCU. At times, the Ospreys have had to play games with limited rosters due to COVID protocols, which led to starters having to stay home.

 With just a 6-6 conference record this season, the Ospreys have suffered many lineup changes and struggles throughout their 2021 campaign. (Justin Nedrow)

Unfortunately, UNF was not the only team to suffer setbacks this season. River City Rumble rival Jacksonville University will not play in the ASUN tournament due to recent positive COVID cases among their players. The tournament schedule was adjusted, and a play-in game between Kennesaw State and JU will not happen.

Luckily for UNF head coach Matthew Driscoll, signs are looking good for this afternoon’s game as the team will head to JU’s Swisher Gym to take on the North Alabama Lions. The last time the two teams played, the series was split, with UNA taking the first game and UNF taking the second. This match, however, is a winner-take-all postseason affair.

When I talked with Driscoll, he noted that team morale was high after Wednesday’s shootaround at JU, and the team is ready to go, whatever the situation might be. 

For the last few days, there had been questions surrounding notable missing starters in their road series against Stetson for the previous few days. The team had suspended four Ospreys last week for reasons not stated, and two of them were starters. Coach Driscoll said that the players were reinstated on Wednesday and will be available for Thursday’s game.

Even without two starters, the team was able to split their last road series against Stetson by way of a different look offense than in previous games. Coming off the Bench, Osprey guard Josh Berenbaum had two breakout games that earned him the final ASUN newcomer of the week award.

“Here’s a guy who played 11 minutes in the Atlantic sun [the entire season],” Driscoll said about Berenbaum’s performance against Stetson. “He played 12 minutes at 15 points [one night], played 20 eight minutes or something the next night with 15 points, and ended up being newcomer of the week. The week before, he wasn’t even playing.”

 Josh Berenbaum, who heated up in late February, could provide a spark if needed in this afternoon’s game. (Justin Nedrow)

Driscoll also noted that the guys have to find ways to win and “do what we gotta do.” The resiliency at this point in the season will be crucial as injuries, and COVID protocols are never off the table. One of those factors is Carter Hendricksen’s status, as he is listed as day-to-day with an undisclosed injury and may be available for this afternoon’s game.

While North Alabama prepares to face UNF, they are coming into this game with sort of a chip on their shoulder as they finished the regular season in a disappointing fashion. Dropping seven of their last eight games, the team has struggled down the stretch. Four of those seven losses came by more than 20 points.

However, the team is one of the top teams in the ASUN in rebounding and led by conference rebound leader Emmanuel Littles. Their aggressiveness around the rim will cause trouble for the Ospreys, who have struggled in that category all year.

While the Ospreys weren’t the most effective team in some statistical categories this season, they finished fourth in the ASUN for the eighth straight year. While this is an achievement in itself for Driscoll, he’s taking everything one step at a time to try and go 1-0 every day.

“Do we feel like we were better? We could have been better. Absolutely.” Driscoll said, “Do we feel like we short-changed ourselves for different scenarios? Of course. But at the end of the day, yesterday’s history, tomorrow’s a mystery. Today is the greatest day we have.”

The game will be at 2:00 p.m. at Swisher Gym on Jacksonville University’s campus. There will be limited seating options available, and the game will be streamed live on ESPN+. Tune into UNF Spinnaker for more coverage of Osprey sporting events.


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