The Jacksonville Dolphins men’s basketball team has found a home away from home over the course of the non-conference portion of the 2016-17 season, and will get one more chance to pick up a road kill in 2016 on Wednesday. If the Dolphins pull off the win, it will undoubtedly be the biggest of the season, and maybe the most impressive since JU went in to the O’Connell Center six years ago today and knocked off the Florida Gators.
Coach Jasick has had quite a few opportunities to tweet about road success this season.
The Davidson Wildcats are mostly known for its NCAA Tournament run in 2008 behind future NBA MVP Steph Curry (then known as Stephen), but are far from a one-hit wonder. A program that gained notoriety first in the 1960s under young, future legendary coach Charles “Lefty” Driesell, has made the tournament 13 times in its history, including three times since Curry left. The Wildcats have worked their way up to the premier mid-major conference in the country in the Atlantic 10 as well, and were predicted to finish fourth in the league this year.
Let’s break down the matchups.
Darien Fernandez has seen his production jump from just over five points per game last year, to 12.5 per game this season, and has also proven to be big in second halves, hitting free throws to force OT in a win over FIU, fueling a second half runaway from Marist on the road and hitting the game-winning three at FAMU last Saturday. He will need to be good pushing the pace and taking care of the ball Wednesday night. Devin Harris continues to stuff the stat sheet. He is at or near the top statistically in multiple categoriesHe is third in scoring (12 ppg), first in rebounding (6.2 rpg), second in assists (3.1 apg), tied for first in blocks (6), second in steals (19), third in field goal percentage (54%), and second in minutes (33 mpg). That’s versatility.
Davidson starts a couple of veteran capable ball handlers in junior Rusty Reigel and senior Jack Gibbs. They are different style players though. Reigel is a better rebounder than scorer, and averages 5.2 boards per game, third best on the team. He also takes care of the ball, with nine more assists than turnovers this season. Gibbs on the other hand, is one of the most dynamic scorers in the country. Averaging nearly 23 points per game, he converts 35 percent of the time from deep and is nearly automatic at the line (82%). He is 13th nationally in scoring, is a Bob Cousy (best PG) Award Watch List member, and has Wildcat faithful mentioning his name in the same breath as Curry (gasp!).
JR Holder’s ability to come back from an injury suffered late in the win over FAMU Saturday is crucial. Holder was held out of Monday’s home win over Florida Memorial, and Coach Jasick said he would be evaluated daily. Jacksonville will need its leading scorer to have a chance. Andris Misters got the start Monday night, and figures to continue to see minutes in Marcel White’s absence. His ability to take and make the three is a big part of his effectiveness.
Jon Axel Gudmundsson is a freshman from Iceland who has taken to the American style of the game pretty well so far. He is still feeling out his offensive game, taking just over six shots per contest as a starter, but is second on the team in assists (2.9 apg), leads the team in steals (11) and grabs four rebounds a game. Redshirt freshman Nathan Ekwu missed all of last year with an injury, and is providing 13 minutes per game of energy and length (six feet seven) more than anything right now.
Darius Dawkins has found his role since coming back from injury, and that is as a lethal shooter off the bench. His three in the waning minutes of the first half sparked JU’s rally, and he is connecting 49 percent of the time from deep. He has made at least three treys in every game this month. Cody Helgeland has had a little trouble with fouls the last two games, but is too heady of a player to let that turn into a long term trend.
The other half of the second best scoring duo in the nation is junior Peyton Aldridge (20.2 ppg). He and Gibbs grew up two and a half hours away from each other in Ohio, but have a connection much closer than that. He is scoring at 49 percent clip, and is on the receiving end of many of Gibbs team leading assists, while cleaning up his misses to the tune of a team best 6.8 rebounds per game. All that at six foot eight makes him a nightmare to guard. Six foot one junior guard Jordan Watkins shoots a team best 39 percent from deep.
Demontrez Austin can have quiet stretches, but when he’s dialed in, everyone in the gym knows it. A career high 16 points, 12 of which came on thunderous dunks, and Austin’s energy was a key in Jacksonville’s third win in a row Monday night. The three headed monster of Austin, Omar El Manasterly, who is finding a comfort zone on offense again, and Antwon Clayton, the Energizer Bunny of the frontcourt, is as deep and versatile as any in the league.
Six foot 11 Boston College transfer Will Magarity should give JU fits inside, and will probably be waiting in the lane to swat the smaller Dolphins’ shots all night (1.3 bpg). Redshirt freshman Dusan Kovacevic also missed all of last year with an injury, and the six foot 10 Serbian has only scored 19 points all year, but cannot be discounted because of his size.
Davidson is the highest ranked team in KenPom (67) that JU will face this year, and one of only two opponents currently ranked in the top 100. A veteran team playing at home, nothing about this game is going to be easy for the Dolphins, who are trying to shake off two lack-luster performances the last two games. But Jacksonville seems to be figuring out how to win games, and that could go a long way if the Dolphins can keep it close until the end.
Jacksonville at Davidson tips at 7 p.m. Wednesday December 21, and can be seen on Atlantic 10 Network and heard on 92.5 FM and mixlr.com/judolphins.