The No. 2 Liberty Flames (26-6) are attempting to earn a spot into the Atlantic Sun championship game for the first time in the 31-year history of their basketball program. The Flames are also playing their first season in the conference, so it will be a great feat if they are able to protect home court advantage for at least one more game.
The No. 3 North Florida Ospreys (16-16) were far behind the top two teams in the A-Sun. However, they did split a pair of games against the newcomers from the Big South. The program is used to pulling upsets in one of the more exciting leagues. Now, they will have a chance to really upset the automatic bid field.
Two seasons ago, the Ospreys shocked the Lipscomb Bisons in the semifinals. They eventually lost to the FGCU Eagles in the A-Sun title game, but recent history suggests the Ospreys have a legitimate shot to pull of another road upset.
The Flames last made the NCAA Tournament field in 2013. Like the Ospreys, they were underdogs in their quest for a shot at March Madness. As a result, they know all too well what can happen when the one and done conference tournament gets underway. Despite a gaudy record, there’s no chance for the Flames to earn an at-large bid with a loss to the Ospreys. Keep in mind, they are working on their third straight 20-win season.
Meanwhile, the Ospreys made their one and only NCAA Tournament appearance in 2015. However, they lost to Robert Morris in the First Four. Now, the Ospreys are looking to continue their hot streak to end the 2018-19 season. Currently, they have won seven straight games to get back to .500 this season. When they were (9-16) it was hard to envision the Ospreys being two wins away from the A-Sun automatic bid. Well, here we are.
As we mentioned earlier, the Flames and Ospreys split the two regular season matchups. Liberty won the first home contest, 70-64 in late January. Less than two weeks ago, the Ospreys returned the favor with a 75-70 home victory. If form holds, the semifinal contest will be a close one. It also means the home team should win. However, form rarely holds in a third matchup during the same season. Therefore, normal pressure for the road team may turn into an advantage if the home team struggles down the stretch.
North Florida is paced heavily by five juniors. All five players average double figure points. They are led by 6’8 forward Nate Horchier with 16 points and 9 rebounds. Horchier is an inside presence, yet he isn’t shy about launching a couple shots per game from beyond the arc. Still, J.T Escobar, Ivan Gandia-Rosa and Garrett Sams take the majority of the 3-point shots from the starting unit. All three players combine to attempt 16 3-pointers per game. They also shoot at least 34 percent from downtown. Moreover, the Ospreys are No. 8 in the country with 870 3-point attempts this season.
The Flames are shy from 3-point range either. They attempt over 24 3-pointers per game. The Flames also shoot a better percentage from beyond the arc than the Ospreys. Right now, they are at 36.8 percent from the downtown. That’s one reason why the Flames are No. 12 field goal shooting team in the country at 49 percent.
Their offensive game is death by 1000 cuts. They only have three players scoring in double figures. Scottie James leads the team with 12.7 points per game. However, they have seven players that score at least six points per game. Meaning, big shots can come from anybody on the court. Be aware that the Flames have three players shooting at least 43 percent from 3-point range. As long as they are knocking down shots, they’ll have a great chance to advance.
Tip time is set for Thursday night at 7 p.m. The winner faces the winner between No. 1 Lipscomb Bisons and No. 5 NJIT Highlanders on Sunday.