|Hatters Use Big First Half to Roll Past Owls|
Stetson coach Casey Alexander knew that his team had better be ready to play on Monday night when Kennesaw State, riding a 10-game losing streak, visited the Edmunds Center.
Apparently, his Hatters listened to the message he delivered.
Stetson used a 31-5 run over an almost 11 minute stretch of the first half to build a comfortable lead and then battled through the second half to take a 75-59 victory over the Owls.
The win snapped Stetson’s five-game losing slide, and moved the Hatters (8-14, 5-6) one step closer to qualifying for the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament. Kennesaw State (3-20, 0-11) has been virtually, but not yet mathematically, eliminated from contention for the post-season tournament.
“We just tried to be ready,” Alexander said. “If you prepare the way you are supposed to prepare, then you should be relaxed going into the game. That doesn’t mean being casual, it means being confident and ready to play. I am proud of them for finding a way to win a game that we needed to win.”
After spotting the visiting Owls and early lead, the Hatters exploded for their best, and longest, offensive run of the season to take control of the game. Down 9-8 with 14:57 to go in the half, Willie Green hit a short jumper in the lane to ignite a 31-5 Stetson run over the next 10:49.
Green scored eight of his 10 first half points in the run, which also included a pair of three-pointers from freshman Dennis Diaz and seven points, of his 14 in the first half, for Chris Perez.
“Before the game, coach just said we had to come out strong because they had a 10-game losing streak and we had to jump on them first,” Perez said. “It was a big game for us because we were on a five-game losing streak, so we had to get this 'W' for us. We had to play our best.”
Alexander said the improved play for the Hatters in the first half, which included just two turnovers in the final 15 minutes, was the result of better energy and excitement on both ends of the floor.
“We were a lot more engaged on both ends of the floor,” Alexander said. “The guys played with a lot of energy, and they played together. They just had fun playing and it is amazing how those things go so well together – effort with excitement and fun.”
That energy ran all the way down the bench for the Hatters, who got significant contributions in the first half from non-starters.
“I thought everybody contributed in the first half,” Alexander said. “Dennis made his threes, Willie got offensive rebounds. We didn’t get production from Jermol’s (Paul) offensive rebounds, but he had three in the first half. Amara (Thompson) had four assists with no turnovers in four minutes in the first half. A lot of guys found a way to contribute and make it a good team win.”
Perez, who finished with a game-high 22 points and also had eight rebounds, singled out the Hatters’ point guards for their play in the game, particularly in protecting the ball in the first half.
“We know that has been a big issue for us the entire year,” Perez said of the turnovers. “We knew they were going to pressure us once we got up and I think Aaron played his best game because he took care of the ball and played smart. All of our point guards did a good job.”
The Hatters leading scorer, center Adam Pegg, was never quite able to get his offense going, but Alexander said his effort on the offensive end helped open the door for others to score. Pegg fouled out late in the game one-point shy of his third double-double. He had 12 rebounds to go with nine points on 4-of-14 shooting from the field.
“Adam wanted the ball, and that is where our offense needs to start,” Alexander said. “We need much better production that what we got, but when he wants the ball, he creates a lot of offense for the other guys. It is important that he gives that to us, whether his numbers are impressive or not.”
In addition to Perez, the Hatters got 11 points from Graham and 10 from Green, all in that first half run.
“It's been kind of hurting us these last five games, a couple of close ones, things just not going our way,” Green said. “We kind of decided to have a new energy when we came out here tonight.”
Stetson will be back in action on Saturday night in Jacksonville when the Hatters square off with North Florida at 7 p.m. The Hatters and Ospreys will go into that game tied for seventh place in the league race.
“We just have to look at it as we are just going to go play North Florida,” Alexander said of the A-Sun standings. “Then, we are going to go play Jacksonville. Both teams are playing better than they were when we saw them at our place, but we are going to go into those games with a full expectation to win, knowing that it is going to take a great effort to do that.”