It was as complete a first half as Jacksonville University’s basketball team has played this season — to the point where the Dolphins could afford a few lapses in the second half and still hold off a late rally by Lipscomb to win 87-69 on Saturday at Swisher Gym.
JU coach Tony Jasick said the next step is extending the good stretches, especially over the rest of the month when the Dolphins play four of their next five Atlantic Sun games on the road.
“We’re competing, playing for longer spurts with some energy and some toughness,” Jasick said after JU improved to 9-11 overall and 3-0 in the A-Sun to remain in a first-place tie with Florida Gulf Coast. “I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface of our potential. I think we can get better over the next few weeks.”
Jacksonville shot a blistering .655 in the first half, mostly on transition baskets triggered by steals and turnovers off a rare zone defense that caught the Bisons (11-7, 1-2) off-balance. Lipscomb shot .313 in the first half and trailed 47-27 at the break.
JU freshman guard J.D. Notae scored 11 of his game-high 21 points in the first 11:33 of the game and senior guard Devin Harris also has 11 points prior to halftime. He finished with 19 points, nine rebounds, seven assists and five steals.
Another freshman guard, Jalyn Hinton, made all eight of his attempts from the floor, on either dunks or layups, for 16 points. Senior forward Cody Helgeland added 12 points and three blocked shots as JU shot a season-high .627 and won by largest margin in an A-Sun game since beating USC-Upsate 89-70 on Feb. 14, 2015.
But it was what the Dolphins did against Lipscomb’s Garrison Matthews on defense that meant as much as anything.
Matthews, who scored 32 points on Thursday in a loss to North Florida, entered the game leading the A-Sun in scoring with 23.3 points per game. He matched his average with a game-high 23 points but had only three points in the first half, managing to get off only three shots.
Eleven of Lipscomb’s 18 turnovers were steals.
“We were really locked in on defense,” Notae said. “We knew they were capable of hitting 3s and going to the hole and we were trying to focus in on the defensive end. Defense turned into offense and we really got going. We spread the court and got the shooters open.”
Matthews scored 11 of Lipscomb’s last 15 points in the final 2:55 of the game when the Bisons threw up a desperate press. His 3-pointer with 1:42 left cut a one-time 21-point JU lead to 77-67 with 1:42.
Harris took over the game after that. He made two steals and was fouled after each one, making both free throws, and took a long pass from Tanner Rubio and made an easy layup.
It wasn’t always pretty. JU had 20 turnovers and made only 16 of 30 foul shots — 5 of 14 in the first half.
“Our guys did a good job of playing the game the right way for most of the game,” Jasick said. “We didn’t play as well during stretches of the second half and we’re probably responsible for the [Lipscomb] run. We get stagnant, inefficient on offense and it hurts us.”