Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

OSPREYS' FIRST DANCE; North Florida Earns Inaugural NCAA Berth with Victory in A-Sun Title Game

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

OSPREYS' FIRST DANCE; North Florida Earns Inaugural NCAA Berth with Victory in A-Sun Title Game

Article excerpt

Byline: Garry Smits

Demarcus Daniels said he came to the University of North Florida from Ashburn, Ga., three years ago to get his dream of being a doctor started and perhaps to make some history on the basketball court.

One goal is well on its way for the 6-foot-7 junior and former Turner County High School salutatorian.

The other is in the books: The Ospreys will be dancing in the NCAA Tournament.

During a second game in a row in which UNF's "Birds of Trey" were grounded, Daniels was the driving force inside on both ends of the court, collecting 22 points, six rebounds and two blocks to lead the Ospreys over SC Upstate 63-57 on Sunday in the Atlantic Sun tournament championship game.

North Florida (23-11) rallied from a four-point deficit with less than 10 minutes left and outscored Upstate (23-11) 19-9 over the last 8:30 to win its eighth game in a row, in front of a record crowd of 6,155 that plunged the UNF Arena in a vortex of noise and bedlam.

The victory not only earned the Ospreys their first league title but their first NCAA Tournament berth. UNF's opponent and regional tournament site will be announced on March 15.

Daniels was named the tournament's MVP and was the glue for the Ospreys with No. 2 scorer Beau Beech (0 of 5 shooting, one point) and A-Sun 3-point percentage leader Trent Mackey (0 of 5, no points) struggling again. In the last two tournament games, Beech and Mackey shot 1 of 23 on 3-point attempts and 2 of 27 overall after combining to hit 9 of 15 3-pointers in the tournament opener against Stetson.

In a 71-57 victory over Lipscomb, Dallas Moore picked up the slack with 36 points.

Against Upstate, it was Daniels' turn as North Florida broke a five-game losing streak against the Spartans.

"We've had some tough times, but we stick to it and we keep growing," said Daniels, whose nickname is "Bae Bae." "We finally got a chance to cut down the nets. It's a wonderful feeling to make history."

Adding to the atmosphere was a record number of 2,500 students at the game, who cheered, yelled, sang and split ear drums to give UNF a decided homecourt advantage that Ty Greene, SC Upstate's star and the A-Sun player of the year, specifically cited as a factor in the game.

"You're not going to find a better atmosphere in college basketball," said Greene, who scored 21 points but had to work hard for every one of them, as UNF limited him to 9-of-23 shooting and 2 of 6 from beyond the 3-point arc - five weeks after his last trip to Jacksonville when he scored 39 points and made 8 of 11 3-pointers in a 79-74 victory over the Ospreys.

UNF coach Matthew Driscoll, in his sixth year at UNF and only three seasons removed from a 13-19 record, said the conference title and NCAA berth are validations of his system and his players. …

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