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Taxing stretch for Pittsburgh native's team

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By John Grupp
Friday, Dec. 9, 2011

The schedule resembled an NCAA Tournament bracket where no one would want to land.

Pittsburgh native Matt Driscoll, the third-year coach at the University of North Florida (5-4), was looking at another murderers' row of opponents and thankless journeys from Gainesville, Fla., to Columbus, Ohio, to Manhattan, Kan.

"We're 0-4 against the BCS and 5-0 against non-BCS," Driscoll said Thursday from his office at the 16,000-student Jacksonville school. "They end up helping you in the long run."

North Florida has won four in a row, including its Atlantic Sun Conference opener against crosstown rival Jacksonville, since returning from a grueling early-season schedule that included trips to No. 16 Alabama, No. 12 Florida, Miami and No. 2 Ohio State.

On Sunday, the Ospreys play at Kansas State. After that, there are trips to Auburn and Virginia Tech in a three-day span beginning Dec. 17.

The trips financially benefit the basketball program, which is in its seventh season in Division I.

"We are making well over $500,000," said Driscoll, a graduate of Northgate High School and Slippery Rock. "That will help the athletic department. There are a lot of plusses."

North Florida held Alabama to 50 points in the first 33 minutes of a 64-44 loss, and Ohio State All-American Jared Sullinger didn't score in the opening 10 minutes of the Buckeyes' 85-50 win. The Ospreys trailed Miami, 66-60, with 3:10 to go before losing by 13.

But, said Driscoll, "We don't get into moral anythings."

The Ospreys reached the Atlantic Sun tournament championship game last season on the way to a 15-19 record. The program was 20-96 in its first four seasons in Division I -- and then Driscoll, a former assistant at Wyoming, Clemson, Baylor and Valparaiso, took over before the 2009-10 season.

It will be an emotional weekend for the 46-year-old. Saturday is the one-year anniversary of La Roche coach Scott Lang's death from a heart attack at 41. Driscoll, who coached at La Roche from 1993-97, and Lang were close friends.

"I've had a lot on my mind," Driscoll said.



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