Stetson had a chance to force overtime in the closing seconds, but junior Victoria McGowan’s three-point attempt at the final horn managed only the front of the rim.
The loss for Stetson (19-6, 10-3) snapped a four-game win streak. UNF improved to 9-15 overall with the victory, 6-7 in Atlantic Sun Conference play.
“I just didn’t like our effort,” Stetson coach Lynn Bria said. “I didn’t think we played hard and I thought they out-played us. Some of that is mental effort when you talk about turnovers. I just thought our effort was very poor.”
Stetson appeared to be gaining control of the game late in the first half. The Hatters had pushed their advantage to seven points, 25-18, with 3:55 left in the half, but UNF put together a 10-0 run over the next three minutes. The Ospreys closed the half on a 12-4 overall run to take a 30-29 lead into the locker room.
The keys to that late run for UNF, as well as to the Ospreys success in the second half, was a dominant performance in the paint. UNF outrebounded Stetson 22-11 in the first half, and 39-31 for the game, and out-scored the Hatters 36-20 in the paint.
“We didn’t guard them very well and were very passive,” Bria said. “They killed us in the paint and I was really disappointed in that. They had a ton more points in the paint and they really dominated the rebounding.”
Despite the struggles on the inside, the Hatters still had an opportunity to win. UNF led by seven with 2:59 to play, but a pair of free throws by Victoria McGowan were followed by an Ospreys turnover and McGowan layup, cutting the Stetson deficit to 54-51.
After Larkira Jones hits a pair of free throws for UNF, McGowan, who until the closing minutes of the game had been held scoreless in the second half, drove in for another layup. She followed after a UNF turnover with a three-pointer to knot the score at 56 with 1:03 left to play.
Following a timeout, UNF got an uncontested layup from Octavia Langston to go back on top, but the Hatters were unable to answer when Jama Sharp missed a three-pointer. The Ospreys got one of two free throws after a foul, setting the stage for McGowan’s final attempt.
“North Florida is a much improved team and they played harder than we did and won the game,” Bria said. “Our mental effort was not good today. Whatever it is, we had better fix it real soon.”
McGowan was the leading scorer in the game, finishing with 21 points, but the junior also had five turnovers. Sasha Sims added 11 points for the Hatters while Shanasa Sanders, who was held scoreless in the first half, finished with nine points.
Jones was the only player for UNF to finish in double figures, leading the Ospreys with 14 points while also grabbing eight rebounds.
The Hatters will return to the Edmunds Center on Thursday night for their second attempt at win number 20 when they host Belmont a 7 p.m. Stetson will attempt to set a new A-Sun Conference attendance record for women’s basketball with a “Pack-the-House” promotion.
“Belmont is on a winning streak and is a team that always plays us tough,” Bria said. “We have to do a better job defensively if we are going to have a chance to win.”