Jacksonville men’s basketball is off to its best start since the 2010-11 season, when the Dolphins went 6-1 to start the year. That year was the last time JU won 20 games and went to the postseason, so while it is still early, some of those good feelings are starting to swirl around the program again in year three of the Tony Jasick era.
JU heads back on the road this week for games on Wednesday and the following Monday. While having only played one game at home so far, have already matched the best win total away from Jacksonville since that good ’10-’11 campaign. The Dolphins are in search of its first three game winning streak of the season, and will face new foe Wisconsin-Milwaukee and in-state foe Bethune-Cookman. The Panthers are breaking in a new head coach and are 2-5 and JU gets a chance to avenge a loss in Daytona to B-CU two years ago.
Darien Fernandez is still working on finding the assist to turnover balance, but has played very good defense, something he is known for, and is averaging nearing 2.5 steals per contest. Devin Harris (12/6/6 ast/0 TO on 5-6 FG at NC A&T), pressed into a starting role due to the Marcel White injury, is finding his range and sharing the ball, which gives JU two defensive oriented point guards who are finding their rhythm offensively now, which is scary for opponents.
JR Holder is still averaging nearly 20 points per game and is shooting an insane 56 percent from the field. If you were to nitpick, if Holder could bump his free throw percentage of 68 percent up closer to his average of 71 he shot last year, especially considering he’s getting to the stripe over five times a game. White is nearing a return, which is good news for a team that is slowly getting healthier.
After his blazing fast start, Cody Helgeland got back in to double figures for the first time since game number three with a 12 point outing in the win over NC A&T Saturday. That being said, he is still playing better than average defense against bigger posts, and making three pointers, adding to JU’s dynamic deep shooting threat. Darius Dawkins is starting to get more comfortable in his role as a sharp shooter off the bench (21 and eight points on 9-16 shooting from three in last two games).
Antwon Clayton made his season debut on Saturday, and looked like a guy who had not played in a month, but his learning curve is not steep as a veteran of the program, and he should have his basketball legs back under him sooner rather than later. Demontrez Austin continues to grab boards and play defense, while picking his spots offensively to the tune of shooting 69 percent from the field. Omar El Manasterly completes the three headed monster of rebounders for JU.
Jacksonville faces UW-Milwaukee (2-4) Wednesday night in the Brew City, and while facing another road challenge, it is again a winnable contest if the Dolphins play well. The Panthers, who made the NCAA Tournament as recently as 2014 and have had big names at the helm such as Bruce Pearl, Bo Ryan and former JU head coach and father of CBS provocateur Doug Gottlieb, Bob, is breaking in a new head coach in LaVall Jordan this season. Jordan was the lead assistant under former head coach Rob Jeter, and also coached at Butler and Michigan. It is clear that Milwaukee is hoping for a quick reload as opposed to a rebuild.
The Panthers feature two 11 point per game scorers, guards Brock Stull and Cody Wichmann. Stull is also the team’s leading rebounder, pulling down 7.3 boards per game despite his six foot four frame. It will be imperative for JU’s bigger guards and wings to keep Stull off the glass. A familiar face in Stetson graduate transfer Cameron Harvey is contributing five points per game in a reserve role. The Panthers do not shoot the ball particularly well (43% FG/32% 3pt), so if Jacksonville can hold them to one and done possessions (8.5 OReb/gm), the task of winning on the road will become a lot easier.
UW-Milwaukee has just one division one win thus far, a rock fight over UC Irvine 54-37 in a tournament in South Dakota. This is the Panthers lone home game in a 10 game stretch, so taking them out of it early will be imperative.
Jacksonville wraps up its latest three game road swing with a short trip down I-95 to Daytona and a matchup with Bethune-Cookman for a third straight year. The Dolphins have split the last two meetings, with both home teams prevailing.
The Wildcats (2-5) return senior point guard Jordan Potts, a Preseason first team All-MEAC selection, who lit up the Dolphins for 26 points on 6-11 shooting from behind the arc last year in Jacksonville. He has not appeared in a game this season though, as he recovers from a broken foot, but could return for this game. They return just one other starter, sophomore wingman Quinton Forrest. Newcomers Brandon Tabb and Reggie Baker are shouldering the load for BC-U, averaging 21.7 and 15 points per game, respectively. Tabb had two 30 point games in junior college last year, and had flirted with the 30 point mark a couple times already this season. He is also rebounding the ball at a nearly six per game average. The team lacks size and depth in the frontcourt, with only two players topping six foot five.
Bethune-Cookman is not playing in their home gym, as Moore Gym was damaged by Hurricane Matthew in October, so they are having to play home games in various locales around Daytona Beach. JU will face them at the ICI Center at Embry-Riddle, and the perceived lack of home court advantage could play into the Dolphins favor. JU excelled in the Red Diamond Roundball Classic in Mobile against neutral opponents, counteracting the empty gyms by bringing their own energy. Coach Jasick felt that his team did not do that nearly well enough Saturday in Greensboro, but they will have another chance on Monday.
Wednesday night’s game vs. UW-Milwaukee can be heard on 92.5 FM and mixlr.com/judolphins, with coverage starting at 7:30 p.m. Monday’s game at Bethune-Cookman can be heard on 92.5 FM and mixlr.com/judolphins with coverage starting at 6:30 p.m.