Stetson’s men’s basketball team went into Monday night’s home season finale against Belmont knowing that it would take a supreme effort to knock of the high-scoring Bruins.
The Hatters got the kind of effort they wanted, but it was still not enough, as they fell to Belmont 106-93.
The loss drops Stetson to 8-18 overall on the year and 5-10 Atlantic Sun Conference play. The Bruins improved to 20-7 overall and moved back into a tie with Mercer atop the league standings with a 12-2 mark.
The Hatters also saw their lead over Jacksonville for the eighth, and final, spot in the A-Sun Tournament shrink to just one game when the Dolphins defeated 61-55 on Monday. Both teams have three games left in the regular season in order to earn that final tournament berth.
Hatters coach Casey Alexander said that he was really pleased with the effort his team gave, even if it was in a loss.
“We gave ourselves a chance, which is what you want to do against a really, really good team,” Alexander said. “We have plenty of things that we can correct but, what I was most concerned with was how hard our team plays and how much they want to play together. Tonight was a completely different team than we saw the last two times out.”
The Hatters were led by junior Adam Pegg, who became the first Stetson player in two years to score more than 30 points in a game. He finished the night with a career-high 31 points that came on 13-of-18 shooting from the field, including 5-of-10 from three-point range.
The 31 points were the second most scored in a game by any player in the A-Sun this year. Lipscomb’s recently dismissed senior guard Jordan Burgason hit the 30-point mark twice this year, scoring 33 at East Tennessee State and 30 at Iowa State.
“Adam played tremendous, there is no doubt about it, and it was great to see him play with so much confidence,” Alexander said.
Pegg said his confidence in the game tonight came from the performance he had against Belmont earlier in the year when he scored 20 points against the Bruins in Nashville.
“The guards did a great job of getting the ball inside to me tonight and I was posting up hard,” Pegg said. “I have to give them a lot of credit. Their bigs aren’t really great on getting out on three-point shooters and I shot it great against them last time so I figured if I was open I would shoot it with confidence.”
High five three-pointers were a career high and helped Stetson match their season-high with 15 threes, the same number they hit against the Bruins in the first meeting.
The game was played at a blistering fast tempo all night and the Hatters found themselves having to match the high-scoring Bruins basket-for-basket over long stretches. From the 11:58 mark of the first half until the 6:37 mark the two teams went up and down the floor for 36 combined points while hitting 14-of-18 shots.
The Hatters trailed by four when that run started, but we down 11 when it came to an end.
“The pace was not to our benefit against that team,” Alexander said. “We had several timeouts where we talked about trading baskets. That is not the way to beat them. They had a stretch in the first half where they scored on 12-of-14 possessions. You just can’t let them do that because there is no way to beat them when they are scoring the ball at that clip.”
Despite Belmont landing a number of haymakers that would have knocked a lot of teams from the game, the Hatters kept chipping away. After trailing by nine, 56-47, at the half, Stetson opened the second half with a 15-7 run that cut the Belmont lead to 63-62. The Bruins answered the run by getting a pair of free throws from Scott Saunders, a turnover and a three-pointer by Ian Clark.
Pegg’s fifth three-pointer cut the Belmont lead to four, 74-70, moments later, but that was as close as the Hatters would get the rest of the way.
Belmont finished the game having hit 20-of-21 from the free throw line while also shooting 57.8 percent from the floor. The Bruins were 12-of-20 from three-point range.
“I think our effort was a lot better,” Pegg said. “They are really hard to defend, which is why they are one of the best scoring teams in the country. They run a similar style to us, so that makes it a little easier, but they have scoring threats from everywhere.”
In addition to Pegg, the Hatters got 13 points from Aaron Graham and 11 from Chris Perez. Belmont had five players in double figures, led by Clark with 23 points. Center Mick Hedgepeth and guard Drew Hanlen scored 17 each while Kerron Johnson had 16 and J.J. Mans 11.
Stetson now has three road games left in which they can earn a spot in the conference tournament. The first of those three will be at Florida Gulf Coast on Friday night. The Eagles are coming off a 21-point victory over Lipscomb on Monday.
“None of these last three games will be easy, so we are going to see what we are made of,” Alexander said. “All we can do is prepare and give ourselves a chance to win by playing with the kind of effort we had tonight. If that is not good enough, then there is nothing we can do. I think it will be good enough.”