Ospreys and Spartans collide in A-Sun title bout

Mar 8, 2015 - 2:41 PM Jacksonville, FL (SportsNetwork.com) - Either the third-seeded USC Upstate Spartans or the top-seeded North Florida Ospreys will earn the Atlantic Sun Conference title and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, as the two teams clash head-to-head in the title bout at UNF Arena.

USC Upstate has left little doubt in getting to the A-Sun title contest after the Spartans demolished Kennesaw State in the quarterfinal round Tuesday, 90-54, and hung on to beat second-seeded Florida Gulf Coast, 63-62, on Thursday.

The same goes for North Florida, which left a path of destruction in its wake. The top-seeded Ospreys took down Stetson, 81-67, in the opening round, and then cruised past Lipscomb, 71-57, Thursday in the semifinals. North Florida has won seven consecutive games entering this championship match. Neither team has won the conference tournament before.

The two title contenders met twice during the regular season, and neither outcome was favorable for the host Ospreys. USC Upstate took down North Florida on the road on Jan. 31, 79-74, and then easily won in Spartanburg, 80-63, not even two weeks later.

Michael Buchanan made a layup for USC Upstate with 38 seconds left to play in the semifinal matchup against Florida Gulf Coast that gave the Spartans a 61-60 lead - one they would not relinquish. A pair of free throws for each side down the stretch closed out the scoring, and the Spartans finished off perhaps the most recognizable team in the conference. Ty Greene tallied 20 points and five rebounds to pace USC Upstate in the victory, while ShunQuez Stephens added another 15 points with seven boards. The Spartans defense limited FGCU to just 35.6 percent shooting from the floor in the contest.

Greene led USC Upstate and the Atlantic Sun Conference in scoring this season, as the guard checks in with 20.2 ppg on 45.7 percent shooting from the floor entering the title match. He's also connecting on a healthy 42.9 percent of his 3-point attempts, and has recorded 69 steals to pace his team. Fred Miller is the only other Spartan to average a scoring total in double figures with 12.1 ppg. Buchanan and Stephens are tied atop the team's leaderboard in rebounding, each pulling down 6.0 boards per outing. The Spartans are netting 72.7 ppg this season - second in the conference - and are allowing opponents to score just 60.7 ppg, the best scoring defense in the league.

North Florida was able to easily handle Lipscomb on Thursday night, and the Ospreys buried 44.4 percent of their first-half field-goal attempts to take a commanding 37-24 lead into the intermission. UNF held the Bisons to just 32.3 percent shooting in the contest with a 4-of-20 mark from 3-point range. Dallas Moore, an all-conference first-team selection, scored a career-high 36 points to lead the Ospreys, while Chris Davenport chipped in 15 points with nine rebounds in the lopsided win. Jalen Nesbitt added six points with eight boards to help his team reach the finals.

Moore leads North Florida this season in scoring with 16.0 ppg, and has dished out 121 assists to pace the squad. Beau Beech, another first-team all- conference choice, checks in with 12.8 ppg, Davenport contributes 11.6 ppg, and Nesbitt rounds out a group of double-digit scorers for the Ospreys at 10.6 ppg. As a unit, North Florida is netting a conference-high 76.1 ppg on 47.2 percent shooting. That offense will have to be hard at work Sunday, considering North Florida allows 68.1 ppg to opponents.

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