The Hatters (9-18, 6-10) have a half game lead over Jacksonville (8-20, 6-11) going into the final weekend of the season. Stetson must beat the Dolphins outright in the standings because JU owns the tiebreaker over the Hatters due to their wins over second place Mercer and third place USC Upstate.
That means, the only way for the Hatters to guarantee a spot in the eight-team field in Macon is to win both games this weekend, starting at East Tennessee State on Thursday night. A win in Johnson City, combined with a Jacksonville loss to North Florida on Friday, would secure the No. 8 seed.
“On one had, we have to approach this like we do everything else and do everything that we can to give ourselves the best chance to win the games,” Hatters coach Casey Alexander said. “On the other hand, we know the reality is that we have to win at least one game, so that is what our mind set it. We just have to go up there are do it.”
If JU were to knock off UNF on Friday, Stetson would need wins over both ETSU and USC Upstate this weekend to get into the tournament. Alexander said that Friday will be a tough day for the Hatters.
“That is going to be a tough thing, and there are a million ways you can go with it, but the truth is that there is nothing we can do about it,” Alexander said. “We’ll just have to wait to see what happens.”
What the Hatters can do is put the pressure on JU by winning Thursday night at ETSU. The men’s game will be preceded at 4:45 p.m. by a women’s game between Stetson and ETSU. Stetson defeated the Buccaneers 73-65 back on the first of December, but Alexander said much has changed since then.
“I don’t think you carry much over from that game at all because it was such a lot time ago,” Alexander said. “That game was almost completely out of mind until we watched the tape. I think both teams are significantly different, even though the big picture is the same.”
Stetson does have a history of success at the ETSU Athletic Center, owning a 3-3 mark there with wins in both 2009 and 2010. The Buccaneers are led by senior guard Adam Sollazzo. The Tampa native leads the team with 14.7 points per game, is third on the team in rebounding (5.4) and leads the squad with 116 assists.
In the first meeting this year it was forward Isaiah Brown who led ETSU with 20 points. ETSU comes into the second meeting with a 14-13 overall record, 8-8 in league play. The Buccaneers are 8-3 at home this year.
“We expect a good game from them,” Alexander said. “It is a really hard place to play and they have done well and enjoyed a lot of success there over the years. We will have our work cut out for us.”
For the Hatters to have a chance at success they will continue to rely on their big man in the middle. Junior center Adam Pegg has been a force around the basket all year, but has come up especially big in the last two games, scoring 31 and 23 points in those two outings.
The strong play of late comes on the heels of a five game stretch where he averaged just 9.2 points per game.
“I don’t know if a lot has changed,” Alexander said of Pegg. “I just think he is playing with a really high level of confidence right now. He is doing what we are asking him to do and he makes a huge difference for us when he produces like he has. He has been a real key to our success, especially at Gulf Coast.”
After the game at ETSU on Thursday night, the Hatters will close the regular season in Spartanburg on Saturday afternoon against USC Upstate. The Spartans enter the weekend just a game behind Mercer for second place in the league race.
USC Upstate defeated Stetson 79-63 in December when teams met in DeLand. At the time, it was an extremely disappointing loss to a team that had been near the bottom of the A-Sun standings the previous year.
“They have played great all year and we have learned that their win here was not so much of an upset as we thought it was,” Alexander said. “It felt miserable at the time. They are playing as well as anyone in the league and they certainly have a chance to win the tournament the next week. It will be a real challenge for us to play in their gym.”
The regular season finale is scheduled for a 2 p.m. start. The Stetson women will play their regular season finale against USC Upstate after the men’s game concludes.