Jacksonville basketball is coming off of a 2-1 road that improved the Dolphins record to 6-3 on the year. Already one win away from matching last year’s road win total and also has won five games away from home for the first time since 2010, when JU won nine. Coincidentally, that was the last time that JU won 20 games and made the postseason.
Tonight, Jacksonville welcomes Eastern Kentucky (5-4) of the Ohio Valley Conference to Swisher Gym, for undoubtedly the premier home, non-conference matchup of the season for Jacksonville.
Let’s look at the matchups.
Darien Fernandez has scored in double figures and is dished out four or more assists in each of the last two games, but has seen his minutes limited some by foul trouble and was disqualified from both the Milwaukee loss and Bethune-Cookman win. He needs to find a way to clean up the penalty problem. Devin Harris saw significant time at the point in Jacksonville’s bigger lineup on Monday. Can we expect more of the same tonight?
Freshman Asante Gist leads the team in assists per game, but can really do it all. Posted a 13 point, six rebound, five assist effort in the Colonels latest win over Marshall, and is a two-time OVC Freshman of the Week already. Steady senior Isaac McGlone takes care of the basketball, and is the lone senior currently playing. Gist will turn it over, so McGlone’s steady hand helps, and will be crucial on the road.
JR Holder continues to score effectively to the tune of nearly 20 ppg, and after struggling with turnovers at the beginning of the trip (four at NC A&T, eight at Milwaukee), Holder had just one giveaway Monday night. He has also shot 50 percent or better each of the last two games, and will need to be on again tonight. The senior is just 20 points away from 1000 in his career. His three-point shooting has been hit-or-miss lately. Can he find the stroke at home?
Louisville transfer Dillon Avare is a sharp shooter to help spread the floor for the undersized EKU backcourt (three starters are five foot 11, six foot and six foot two). So far Avare is shooting 38 percent from deep, third best on a team shooting just 34 percent from deep. Avare, if not marked, could heat up against a JU team that has lost some three point shooters this year. Marlon Adams at six foot six adds size and rebounding as a freshman off the bench.
Cody Helgeland has seen his scoring reduce since his hot start, but is still averaging nearly 11 points a game and has been good passing and rebounding to make up for it. Darius Dawkins, coming off of a team high 21 point outburst in the only previous home game this season, saw his minutes spike on Monday, and responded with his second best outing (14 points/5 rebounds on 3-6 3pt shooting in 23 minutes). He could be key in helping ignite the offense which has gone over 70 just once in the last three games.
Nick Mayo is unquestionably the best player on EKU. A six foot nine stretch forward from Maine, Mayo is averaging 20.2/6.6/2.7 on the year and dropped 30 points and 10 rebounds against Marshall last Saturday. An efficient scorer (49% FG/47% 3pt), he is not a back to the basket guy, but can still score in a variety of ways. EKU goes as Mayo goes.
With Antwon Clayton’s return from injury, Jacksonville now has three solid options in the post. One thing the coaching staff (and fans) would like to see, is all three assert themselves on the glass more. Omar El Manasterly, Demontrez Austin and Clayton combined for just six of the team’s 37 rebounds Monday night. The battle on the glass will be a huge factor against the bigger Colonels tonight.
Zach Charles is still acclimating to Division I hoops, but was a double-double machine at McLennan CC, and has shown flashes of that ability in the early going. DeAndre Dishman is scoring and rebounding efficiently, but the freshman has struggled with fouling at times. EKU has out-rebounded its opponent five games in a row (and won four of them), so this spot is a huge key.
Kenpom.com has Jacksonville winning 76-71, and it will take a vintage Jacksonville home performance to ensure that result. The Dolphins won their first 12 home games last year, and will try and make it a perfect 2-0 tonight. For Jacksonville, steady aggressiveness on the defensive end will help on the offense, while EKU looks to funnel through sophomore do-it-all Mayo on the road in the absence of their third leading scorer due to suspension.