Middle Georgians shine again

Mercer’s University Center was good to Lehmon Colbert and Ben Smith again Wednesday night.

The Middle Georgia natives combined for 48 points to lead Jacksonville to a 76-69 victory over North Florida in the first round of the A-Sun tournament. The win puts the second-seeded Dolphins (19-11) into Friday’s 9 p.m. semifinal against the winner of tonight’s game between No. 3 Belmont and No. 6 Mercer.

Smith, the 5-foot-10 senior from Dublin and Colbert a 6-6 senior from Roberta, each scored 24 points to win for the fourth time in five games at the arena. Smith, a first-team all-conference selection, picked up 14 of his points at the foul line, including a 9-for-12 effort in the game’s final 2:11 when the Ospreys (13-18) fought back from an 18-point deficit.

Eni Cuka matched Colbert and Smith in scoring for North Florida. The senior guard scored 14 of his points after the Ospreys fell behind 58-40 with 8:31 left in the game. After Smith went 1-for-2 at the line with 35 seconds left for a 73-63 lead, Cuka and Germaine Sparkes buried 3-pointers to make it 73-69 just 15 seconds late. Smith, however, halted the threat with two foul shots with 19.1 seconds left.

Colbert then sealed the game by getting fouled on a rebound of a North Florida miss and sinking one of his two at the line.

Jacksonville looked as though it might have an easy time of it early by scoring 10 of the game’s first 11 points as the Ospreys missed their first six shots. Cuka broke the drought with a 3-pointer with 16:49 left. After Smith hit a jumper and 2-for-3 at the line when fouled on a 3-point attempt, the lead hit its highest of the half at 17-6 with 13:50 remaining.

The lead was still 27-18 after Colbert, who had 12 points in the first half, nailed a 3-pointer from the baseline with 5:30 remaining. North Florida, however, went on a 10-3 run to draw within 30-28 with 2:54 left. The Ospreys had a chance to tie on their next possession after a Dolpins turnover, but Cuka missed a 3-pointer from the top of the key.

Ayron Hardy scored on a layup after Cuka’s miss and after another miss, Smith worked free in the lane for a layup to make it 34-28 at the half.