The Stetson men's basketball team (2-2) lost at home for the first time this season, falling to South Florida (4-2) by a score of 63-54 on Monday night. Senior Joel Naburgs led the Hatters with 18 points on four three-pointers in the defeat.
"With such small margin for error, like we had in this game, you have to win the free throw battle, you have to shoot a high percentage, and you have to have guys really rise up when their time is called," Stetson head coach Casey Alexander said after the game. "Not to discredit anybody - our effort was great - it just wasn't our night to finish it off."
Not only was the effort there for the Hatters, but the quality of play was as well, as the team went toe-to-toe with the Bulls until the final few minutes of the game. Stetson tied the game for the fifth and final time of the night when a pair of free throws from junior Aaron Graham made it 49-49 with 3:50 left to play. Unfortunately, USF quickly went on an 8-0 run to put the Hatters out of reach and leave DeLand with the 63-54 win.
"I felt like our guys played hard enough to win the game," Alexander said. "I'm really proud of their effort. I think they thought they could win the game, they played like they were going to win the game, but we just simply weren't good enough down the stretch. I don't think it's anything they did, or we didn't do. We had some great looks, they just didn't fall in."
A team that used defense to advance all the way to the Third Round of last year's NCAA Tournament, the Bulls' tough and physical style of play forced another slow start for the Hatters on Monday. Stetson, which was averaging 82.7 points per game coming into the night, only had three points at the first media timeout. Fortunately for SU, its opponents had been shut out at the first break for the second straight contest, as Stetson led USF 3-0 through 4:19.
As the two teams got comfortable, it was South Florida that took the early advantage, using a 9-2 run to take an 18-12 lead and force a Stetson timeout with 8:01 to play in the first half. The Hatters stopped the bleeding with a layup by junior Chris Perez, and then went on a 7-1 run to tie the game back up at 21-21 when a long two-pointer by Graham was good at the 4:35 mark.
After a Naburgs triple cut the USF lead to one point at the break, the senior guard scored seven out of the Hatters' first nine points of the second half to give Stetson a 36-34 lead with 15:45 to play. Unfortunately for SU, the Bulls soon went on a 7-0 run, which included five points from Jawanza Poland, and USF held a 47-39 lead midway through the second half. The late eight straight points by the Hatters tied the game one final time, but it wasn't enough to escape with the victory.
USF used a tough inside presence to top the Hatters, scoring 34 points in the paint, grabbing 12 offensive rebounds, and scoring 13 second chance points. Stetson was depleted a bit on the inside, playing without freshman forward Brian Pegg, who is injured, and senior center Adam Pegg, who was serving a one-game suspension from the Atlantic Sun Conference for his ejection against Southeastern on Nov. 19.
"I'm sure that was part of it," Alexander said about USF physicality playing a part in the loss. "They hang their hat on defense, and regardless of what our offense was, or who we had playing, it was going to be tougher to come by tonight. 54 is a really low number for our team. You throw [fatigue] on top of playing a really physical team, and it wore us down a bit."
Naburgs led Stetson with 18 points on 4-of-7 from beyond the arc. His quartet of triples gave the senior 135 in his career, one shy of the sixth spot in the Stetson record books. Graham added 15 points and a team high seven rebounds. Junior Willie Green chipped in with 11 points, six boards, two assists, and two blocks in the defeat.
The Hatters came into Monday's game leading the nation with 20.0 assists per game, but were only able to manage 14 against the Bulls. On only 19 total field goals, that is not so bad. Senior Liam McInerney, freshman Logan Irwin, and Perez each recorded three in the game.
USF was led by Toarlyn Fitzpatrick and Poland, who scored 20 and 19 points, respectively. The latter led the Bulls with 10 rebounds, four coming on the offensive side. USF shot only 25.0 percent from beyond the arc, but forced Stetson under 30 percent from three-point land (29.2) for the first time this season.
Stetson will now have its quickest turnaround to date, playing again at Virginia Commonwealth on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. in Richmond. The game can be listened to live and for free on WSBB 1230 AM in New Smyrna, 1490 AM in DeLand, at www.myam1230.com, or on HatterVision. VCUAthletics.com will also be providing a live video stream of the game. Live Stats, the @StetsonMBB Twitter feed, and Hat-Alerts are also available for in-game updates.
Coach Alexander Interview