Then the second half started. The Bruins opened the period with a 12-2 run, turning a two-point deficit into an eight-point lead en route to a 84-71 victory over the Hatters.
“That was about all we talked about at halftime because they are a team that lives off that,” Stetson coach Casey Alexander, who made his first appearance at the Curb Center as a visiting coach after spending 16 years on the Belmont staff, said. “They have a lot of very good players who are offensive minded, and when they get going they are hard to corral.
“We lost our poise and quit playing the way we want to play. We kept playing hard, but we have to understand the difference between playing hard and playing out of control.”
After struggling from the outside in the first half, the Bruins started heating up from the perimeter early in the second, which opened the door even more for the dominating play of senior center Mick Hedgepeth.
Not since facing Indiana’s Cody Zeller in December, and possibly not even including that game, has Stetson seen such a dominant performance in the paint by an opponent. Despite the best efforts of Stetson’s Adam Pegg, Liam McInerney and Willie Green, the Hatters never found an answer for the Bruins big man.
Hedgepeth finished the game with 24 points, hitting 11-of-12 from the floor, while also grabbing a game-high seven rebounds. Guard Kerron Johnson helped the Bruins convert Stetson’s 10 second half turnovers into easy baskets and trips to the free throw line. He finished with 19 points.
“He is really good,” Alexander said of Hedgepeth. “He is a fourth year player who has been on the all-league team a couple of times, and will be again this year. He is a really smart player who plays with great effort and, when you do that often enough, things are going to go your way. He had a great night.”
The Hatters lost despite hitting a season-high 15 three-pointers. Other than four from Aaron Graham, Stetson got the threes from unusual locations, with Pegg hitting four and McInerney hitting three. The 15 three-pointers were the most ever by a Belmont opponent at the Curb Events Center.
“We got four from Adam and three from Liam,” Alexander said. “I don’t think we want to live off that. I am glad they made them. We shoot a ton of them and I have confidence in them to know when they can take them and when they can’t. It kept us in the game tonight.”
Stetson led throughout most of the first half after Liam McInerney answered an opening three-pointer by Belmont’s Drew Hanlen. The Bruins did not hit another three until Hanlen struck again with just over a minute left in the opening period.
In between, Belmont missed nine straight from long range while the Hatters hit 7-of-16. It was inside the stripe where Stetson struggled, scoring just two baskets in nine attempts while also struggling to stop Belmont senior center Mick Hedgepeth, who scored 12 of the Bruins’ 29 points, hitting 6-of-7 shots from the paint.
The Hatters built their first half lead to as many as seven points, but settled for a 31-29 lead at the break.
Pegg tied his career-high with 20 points in the game, while Graham added 15 and Chris Perez had 10.
Stetson will finish the trip to Nashville on Monday night when the Hatters face Lipscomb at 7:30 p.m. The Hatters will be looking to earn a split on this road trip and will need to play well to get it.
“We have to,” Alexander said. “If we walk out of there on Monday with a win then it will have been a good trip. Nobody feels good about this game tonight, but very few are going to come in here and win, so Monday becomes a huge test.”
The Hatters will be back in action on Friday night at the Edmunds Center when they host Florida Gulf Coast. The game will feature the debut of the new Stetson Athletics mascot and all fans in attendance will receive a free bandana to commemorate the debut.
The game is scheduled for a 7 p.m. tip and will be televised by CSS.