Jacksonville men’s basketball (13-8, 1-3) continues at home after a two game road trip that the Dolphins split. Anytime you can split a road trip, it has to be seen as a success, though JU must be kicking themselves some for not sweeping after leading USC Upstate by as many as 12 in the second half before falling on Saturday.
If you split road games in conference, it makes it that much more important to win the home games, and Jacksonville faces two good tests this week.
Lipscomb has only lost to league-leading Florida Gulf Coast thus far, but has not traveled in ASUN play yet (UPDATE: JU fell 112-95 to the Bisons in a game marred by fouls and lack of rhythm) and Kennesaw State (7-13, 1-3) has one of the most dynamic scorers in the league in Kendrick Ray and easily dispatched Stetson for its first league win after two narrow losses before falling to North Florida 86-84 Thursday night.
A closer look at the Dolphins:
Darien Fernandez is coming off of a career high 33 points in the loss to Lipscomb, topping a career high 31 he dropped against the Bisons in the ASUN Tournament last year. In maybe the most surprising aspect of the evening in which four Jacksonville Dolphins fouled out, Fernandez was not one of them. The senior point guard spoke the other day about trying to give his team a spark, and perhaps may take some early shots Saturday night vs. Kennesaw State to try and help JU to avoid the slow starts that have plagued them all season.
DFern was a guest on this week’s “The Tony Jasick Show,” head to the 16:30 for an extended conversation with the Onset, Mass. native.
Tanner Rubio is only seeing his legend grow as he continues to light up opponents from deep, and is consistently improving on the defensive end as well. 5-5 shooting from deep in the first half at USC Upstate Saturday was only marred by his inability to get a shot off in the second half. He followed it up with 11 more on Thursday night and has now scored in double figures in seven of nine contests since sitting for several games in early December. Both of these guys are looking for big games back in the friendly confines of Swisher.
JR Holder showed off the best version of himself (minus some shaky free throw shooting) in dropping a career high 39 at NJIT, in using his length and strong finishing ability to consistently score at the rim while mixing in some sharp shooting from deep. Holder was good against the Spartans, but the turnover bug flared up again (team high six turnovers on Saturday) and Jacksonville as a team has shown that they have to keep turnovers low to win. Thursday, Holder was limited to just 14 minutes and four points due to foul trouble. This team needs Holder on the floor and effective to win in league play.
Devin Harris continues to rebound well, score the basketball efficiently and distribute from the wing (he had seven assists to just two turnovers last week), and scored 12 on 5-5 shooting vs. Lipscomb, but also fouled out. How will Harris fare in the post against Kennesaw State’s size will be a crucial matchup.
Cody Helgeland returned for Jacksonville for the first time since injuring his ankle New Years Eve on Saturday, and only played three minutes without recording a stat, then returned to the starting lineup on Thursday and looked like a guy trying to knock the rust off. That being said, as the only Dolphin who posted a positive +/- against Lipscomb, it is clear this team is better with him on the floor.
Darius Dawkins is mired in a bit of a shooting “slump”. He is 0-12 from deep, but still has the green light and will get the chance to shoot his way out. An effective Double D will go a long way towards helping JU snap a two game losing streak Saturday night.
Antwon Clayton has looked more comfortable back in the starting lineup game by game, and is finding his offense a little more to go with his strong defense and rebounding. Omar El Manasterly and Demontrez Austin both had one good game and one bad game on the recent road trip, and will takes turns defending multiple players bigger than them this weekend.
Let’s take a closer look at Kennesaw State.
Kennesaw State picked up its first win in league play Saturday at home over Stetson, before dropping another heartbreaker across town at UNF on Thursday night. The Owls have lost three ASUN games by a combined eight points so far, and seem to be on the verge of breaking through.
They are lead by Kendrick Ray, who in his second year in the program after transferring in from Quinnipiac and is currently second in the league in scoring at 22.5 points per game. With the sharp shooting Nick Masterson (51% 3pt, 1st ASUN) and double-double machine Aubrey Williams (12 ppg/10.9 rpg), the Owls have not missed a beat despite the departure of point guard and dynamic scorer Yonel Brown and post presence Nigel Pruitt.
This game figures to be close throughout, and Jacksonville would do themselves a favor by starting well, though Kennesaw State does not figure to be a team to get blown out no matter how things are going. Second year head coach Al Skinner knows enough from his time at Rhode Island and Boston College about how to win, and the Owls are proving to be a peskier out than anyone expected this year. That being said, both of these teams are 1-3 in ASUN play, and must display a sense of urgency tonight.
Jacksonville hosts Kennesaw State on Saturday, January 21 at 7 p.m. at Swisher Gym. The game can be seen on ESPN3/Watch ESPN app & heard on mixlr.com/judolphins.