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Ugly finish: North Florida-Austin Peay men’s college basketball game ends with brawl

The University of North Florida’s basketball game against Austin Peay on Saturday in Clarksville, Tennessee, ended in an ugly brawl among players from both teams after UNF’s Jonathan Aybar fouled the Governors’ Cameron Copeland as the buzzer sounded in the Ospreys’ 73-71 loss at the Dunn Center.

UNF had possession with 13 seconds left and Jose Placer inbounded the ball under the Austin Peay basket to Jarius Hicklen. Carter Hendricksen took a pass from Hicklen and was dribbling around the top of the key but appeared to take a shot to the head by APU’s Guy Fauntleroy and fell to the court.

Hicklen recovered the ball and tried to pass inside but it was knocked loose and recovered by Shon Robinson. He passed to Fauntleroy, who then gave it up to Copeland. Instead of running out the final seconds or taking an uncontested layup, Copeland bounced the ball hard to the floor in an apparent attempt to dunk it when it reached its apex.

By that time, Aybar came flying in to try to block the shot and fouled Copeland as the horn sounded. Several Austin Peay players charged at Aybar, including Copeland, a member of the UNF team in 2018-19, and at one point Aybar was surrounded by APU players, with at least two appearing to take swings at Aybar.

Austin Peay’s Carlos Paez also grabbed Aybar and attempted to pull him down to the floor before they were separated.

It took arena security, UNF coaches and players to pull Aybar away, and he made one attempt to break free. The melee was broken up within 40 seconds and the teams were ordered to go to their locker rooms.

However, the doors to both locker rooms share a common hallway and according to ClarksvilleNow.com, players from both teams confronted each other again.

North Florida forward Jonathan Aybar (21) shown playing against Jacksonville guard Dylan O'Hearn (2) on Feb. 2, 2023.  (Corey Perrine, Florida Times-Union)

There was no immediate report on what happened near the locker rooms and UNF coach Matthew Driscoll didn’t mention it in a statement released through the school’s sports information department.

“It was a tough loss in an important ASUN game today and unfortunately it ended how it did,” he said in the statement. “(Aybar) went to make a play to contest a dunk in the final seconds but ultimately it shouldn’t have come down to the last play. We will move forward as a team in the final week of the regular season.”

A UNF communications official said it was the only immediate statement Driscoll would make on the incident.

Statements from UNF Athletics and from Austin Peay athletic director Gerald Harrison seemed to indicate both schools are sharing the blame for the incident.

“It was a disappointing ending to today’s men’s basketball game at Austin Peay,” said the statement from UNF. “The safety and sportsmanship within our athletic events [are] of the utmost importance. We will work together in cooperation with the ASUN Conference to determine the best response moving forward.”

Harrison’s statement expressed similar sentiments.

“I am disappointed with the behavior at the conclusion of today’s game with North Florida,” Harrison said in the statement. “Our student-athletes are held to a higher standard … Austin Peay and the ASUN Conference take pride in sportsmanship. That didn’t happen today. We will work with the ASUN Conference to determine the appropriate path forward and respond accordingly.”

After reviewing the play, officials ruled that Aybar fouled Copeland with a fraction of a second remaining on the clock. He was awarded two free throws and made one. However, the officials did not eject Aybar or any other players from what was left of the game.

The ASUN also had not yet commented on whether any of the players involved in the brawl would face suspensions. The conference is in the process of reviewing video and will take statements.

All conference teams have more regular-season games remaining on Wednesday and Friday this week before the ASUN tournament begins.

UNF is home for both games, against Eastern Kentucky and Bellarmine.

UNF (12-16, 7-9), which beat Lipscomb 114-111 in double overtime on Thursday, trailed by as many as 11 points early in the second half before rallying to come within one point on Hendricksen’s three-pointer with 1:44 left, then Placer’s two free throws with 55 seconds remaining. Paez missed a shot and Hendricksen (21 points) got the rebound to give UNF their last chance. Placer and Hicklen had 14 points each.

The Ospreys beat Austin Peay 90-85 in overtime on Dec. 31 to open the ASUN season.

Source: USA Today