Free throws fire UNF past Kennesaw State

The scoreboard will say the University of North Florida added one more to the win column Saturday night.


The standings will list the Ospreys at 2-1 in the Atlantic Sun Conference.

But for head coach Matthew Driscoll, the 85-point night doesn’t tell the whole story.

“We’ve got to do a better job on the offensive end,” he said after Saturday’s too-close-for-comfort 85-78 win over Kennesaw State at UNF Arena.

Noah Horchler finished with his latest double-double of 15 points and 13 rebounds, including a string of clutch boards in the closing minutes, and the Ospreys finally earned the victory through the parade to the free-throw line.

Just as in Thursday’s win against Lipscomb, the Ospreys’ free-throw shooting - 32 of 37 (86.5 percent), led by guard Ivan Gandia-Rosa’s perfect 10 for 10 - made the difference down the stretch.

UNF looked sloppy and disjointed for long stretches, particularly in a pair of spells midway through each half on a night of foul-strewn, whistle-a-minute basketball.

The Ospreys misfired from distance (7 of 30 from beyond the arc) and piled up 17 turnovers. But thanks to their work at the line, the Ospreys finished off a perfect first full week in conference play.

If they keep shooting like this from the stripe, it might be time for a new nickname - the Birds of One.

“It’s really nice to see us get [scoring] from different places, especially when we’re not making threes,” Driscoll said.

Kennesaw State (4-14, 0-3 ASUN) fought back from a 10-point deficit early in the second half, scoring 19 points in a span of 4:05 and tying the game.

The Ospreys (8-12, 2-1) broke a 62-62 deadlock on a pair of J.T. Escobar free throws with eight minutes to play, going on a 6-0 run to take the lead, but the stubborn Owls kept the Ospreys within one score as late as the two-minute mark.

Then, Horchler put back a Garrett Sams miss with 1:36 to go and pulled down a pair of defensive rebounds late to crush the comeback hopes.

Kennesaw State dominated the boards in the first half, pulling down 13 offensive rebounds, but Horchler and Trip Day managed to wrest back control of the paint after the break despite playing with four fouls each for the final 10 minutes.

“We said, let’s roll the dice, let’s act like we’re in Vegas,” Driscoll said about the decision to keep both on the floor in foul trouble. “Let’s see what we can get out of this.”

Day, who finished with 18 points and nine rebounds, said help from guards like Osborn Blount and Gandia-Rosa helped make the difference in rebounding after halftime.

“All of our guys have got to crash,” Day said. “I think our guards realized they can’t be waiting down there. We had to make those adjustments.”

Those two again picked up the slack for an interior unit without sophomore Wajid Aminu, who missed his second consecutive game with an ankle sprain sustained Jan. 6 against Jacksonville University.

“I actually thought Noah grew up tonight,” Driscoll said. “He really had to play smarter, because Wajid wasn’t in the mix.”

Nick Masterson scored 24 points, while James Scott and Kosta Jankovic each scored 15 for the Owls, the Ospreys’ most frequent opponent. The teams have met twice each season since 1997-98, going back to UNF’s days in the Division II Peach Belt Conference.

UNF has four days to rest before its longest intra-conference road trip, Thursday’s game against NJIT in Newark, N.J.