A few more big-time wins and Jacksonville University could have a couple of home games when the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament begins next month.
Without some much-needed improvement, UNF’s postseason might not last that long.
With three weeks remaining in the regular season, JU is second in the A-Sun, while UNF is tied for fourth as the two programs continued to trend in opposite directions Monday night.
The Dolphins (12-13, 6-2) escaped with a wild 68-67 victory at Stetson when freshman guard JD Notae was fouled and made two of three free throws with a half-second remaining. Notae’s big play came after Stetson’s Luke Doyle banked in a stunning 3-pointer with 4.5 seconds left to put the Hatters ahead.
“We were very, very fortunate to get out of here with a win,” JU coach Tony Jasick said.
Notae’s game-high 20 points helped offset the loss of guard Devin Harris, who exited in the second half after suffering a hip injury when he was fouled on a dunk try. Harris finished with 14 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists.
“Let’s just hope he’s OK and can bounce back in a couple of days,” Jasick said.
The victory kept JU one game ahead of Lipscomb for second in the standings, two games behind Florida Gulf Coast, which remains unbeaten in conference play. If they can remain in that spot, the Dolphins would host at least their quarterfinal and semifinal games in the conference tournament, assuming they were to advance that far.
The A-Sun tournament begins Feb. 26 and concludes with the championship game March 4.
The Ospreys (10-15, 4-4) still have time to climb in the standings, but they need to show vast improvement. Particularly on the defensive end, where they ranked 349th of 351 Division I teams following a 103-70 loss at FGCU.
The 33-point loss Monday was UNF’s largest margin of defeat in A-Sun play since the Eagles beat the Ospreys 89-56 in the 2016 conference tournament semifinals.
UNF’s problem, once again, was sloppiness and an overall poor defensive effort. FGCU shot 56.6 percent from the field, outscored UNF 24-7 on points off turnovers and held a 36-point advantage in the paint.
Those issues erased a solid shooting performance by the Ospreys, who had four players finish in double figures, led by sophomore forward Noah Horchler’s 16 points.
“You can’t get down that big and expect to be on the road against the No. 1 team in the league and decide when you’re going to play,” said UNF coach Matthew Driscoll, whose team has lost seven straight to FGCU. “You have to play from the [start]. They had the energy and they had the effort and it showed.”
With six games remaining, UNF is tied with NJIT for fourth in league play, though the Ospreys lost a meeting between the two teams 91-59 earlier this month. The top four seeds host A-Sun quarterfinal games, increasing the importance that UNF moves on from Monday’s blowout loss.
Both local programs return to action Saturday. JU hosts FGCU at 6, and UNF welcomes Stetson at 7.
Phillip Heilman: (904) 359-4063