Ten years after becoming a Division I program, North Florida has qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history. The Ospreys (23-11, 12-2) beat South Carolina Upstate, 63-57, in the Atlantic Sun Championship on March 8 and will face Robert Morris in Dayton this Wednesday at 6:40 p.m. ET.
“Our guys have really embraced it,” North Florida head coach Matthew Driscoll said on CBS Sports Radio’s After Hours with Amy Lawrence. “We’re going to have (had) a week (off) because our game was last Sunday. You get a lot of media attention nationally. Guys have done a great job. They’ve been humble and they’ve really understood what we’re trying to do. But for the school alone, the exposure that we’ve gotten, the national attention . . . you really get an opportunity to kind of seize the moment and let people know what your school is really like.”
If victorious against Robert Morris, North Florida will face No. 1 Duke this Friday at 7:10 p.m. ET.
The Ospreys have won 16 of their last 18 games and would love to go on the same run that league rival Florida Gulf Coast went on in 2013, when the Eagles became the first 15-seed to advance to the Sweet 16.
“They made so much noise a couple years ago, I was worried about losing my job,” Driscoll joked. “We had a bad year that year. When you’re in a league like us, it’s a one-bid league. The conference championship is so critical, and there’s so much pressure. Look at a Murray State: (ranked) 25th in the country, 25 wins in a row, 16-0 in their league (and they missed the tournament). So the pressure is to win that postseason. You want to win the regular season, like we did. We won both, which is cool. But that postseason is critical. Then when you go into the tournament, now it’s all about match-ups. It’s a big, big, big match-up game.”
North Florida, which starts three sophomores and one junior, runs an up-tempo offense that saw four players average double figures this season: Dallas Moore (15.9 points per game), Beau Beech (12.5), Chris Davenport (11.5) and Jalen Nesbitt (10.8). Seven different Ospreys scored at least 20 points in a game this season.
“We’ve been practicing all week, so we’re kind of eager to play a game,” Driscoll said. “We’re eager and excited to play a game. We’re trying to make sure we’re locked and loaded from a conditioning standpoint. It kind of is what it is. When you’re in this tournament, you got to be able to take on whoever you got to take on. It isn’t like you can be choosy.
“We have a mantra here and we stuck by it all year,” Driscoll continued. “We just try to be 1-0 every night. That’s all we try to do. We just have to handle our business (and go) 1-0 Wednesday night.”