JSU loses heartbreaker to Jacksonville Dolphins in ASUN Semifinals, still have March Madness hope

Photo courtesy of JSU Athletics

Justin Travis, Correspondent

Kicking off the semifinal round of the ASUN Conference Tournament at home, the Jacksonville State Gamecocks lose in upset fashion to Jacksonville 54-51.

Despite the loss, the Gamecocks’ season isn’t quite done. The possibility of JSU earning a March Madness bid remains alive with a Bellarmine win in the ASUN championship, which would send the regular season champion to the NCAA tournament. 

According to NCAA rules, a team who transitioned from Division II to Division I must wait four years. Bellarmine is just in their second season of Division I play, making them ineligible to make it to March Madness.

A Kayne Henry dunk brought the Dolphins’ lead to just one with 8.9 seconds remaining. A pair of free throws from Jacksonville brought their lead to three, and a failed offensive possession brought the shot clock down on JSU’s ASUN Tournament Championship hopes. 

In his postgame press conference, ASUN Coach of the Year, Ray Harper said, “We have to continue to carry ourselves like the team we know ourselves to be, and not let this game define us and the season we have had.” He also congratulated Jacksonville on the great game they played, but said his team, “Did not play like I know they can.” 

Both teams started off the game trying to get a feel of the other on offense, and neither could get a rhythm early on. The Gamecocks looked unrecognizable on the offensive end while running their common half-court offense. 

JSU was only able to squeak out seven points through the first ten minutes of action, and trailed 15-7. However, an enormous block by Brandon Huffman fueled a run by the Gamecocks to cut the lead to three.

As the first half continued on and drew closer to the halftime break, JSU was able to storm back with a fury of defensive stops and cut the lead to one. However, the Dolphins switch to a zone defense, threw off whatever rhythm the Gamecocks believed they had, and inflated the score to 23-18 at the half. 

Jacksonville State was led by Jalen Finch and Kayne Henry, who combined for 11 points and two steals through the first twenty minutes of action.

The second half was defined by the simplest rule in basketball, who makes more shots than the other team. In an extremely close matchup the clock began to play a big role in determining which team would see their playoff run continue. 

A pair of Dolphin free throws gave them a 45-44 lead with under two minutes to play, and a Kevion Nolan three expanded the lead to four. JSU was in desperate need of a turnover to close the gap before time ran out of the game, it looks like with 17.8 seconds left down 52-49, one might have come their way. However, the decision was in the hands of the stripped officials, who went to review the play, and determined it was not a turnover. Just a few seconds later, a turnover fell in the hands of Jacksonville State, as the Dolphins advanced to the ASUN Championship shortly after.

Jacksonville will take on Bellarmine in the ASUN Championship on Wednesday. A Bellarmine win would send Jacksonville State to the March Madness tournament.

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