The Stetson men's basketball team (5-10, 2-2) defeated Jacksonville (7-10, 2-2) by a score of 81-72 on Monday night to even its Atlantic Sun Conference record to 2-2. Junior Chris Perez and senior Adam Pegg combined for 45 points to lead the Hatters in the victory.
"It's nice to play well enough in the first 30 minutes that you give yourself a cushion, and you can be not your best for the last 10 and still win a game by nine points," Stetson head coach Casey Alexander said after the win. "[I'm] pleased with the win, obviously. [It's] great to bounce back after a tough one Saturday."
Stetson opened the game with a pair of layups from junior Hunter Miller and Perez, eventually taking an early 11-5 lead over the Dolphins just over five minutes into the contest. Jacksonville scored the next four points to get within two, at 11-9, but six straight points that included a pair of jump hooks from Pegg extended the Hatters' lead to eight, at 19-11, with 10:54 to play in the period.
Seven straight from the Dolphins, which concluded with five points from Javon Dawson, gave Jacksonville its first tie of the game since the opening tip, evening the score at 23-23 with 7:40 to play in the half.
After a conventional three-point play by Miller stopped the bleeding, JU used a 6-2 run to take its first and only lead of the game, at 29-28. The Hatters countered with a 10-2 stretch to end the frame to take a 42-34 advantage into the break. Perez scored five points and freshman Leke Solanke came up with two blocks during the run.
"I'm so proud of Chris, not necessarily because he continues to give us great production, but because he's doing it within the framework of what we want to do," Alexander said. "He's finding his way to do what he does best within the framework of how we want to play, and that's what good players do. And that's how good teams are built."
The Hatters scored six out of the first eight points of the second half to extend their lead to 13 points, as senior Liam McInerney's fall away jumper put Stetson up 49-36 less than three and a half minutes into the period.
The advantage wasn't as comfortable as the Hatters would have liked, as Jacksonville used its pressure defense to force a few Stetson turnovers, and come within six points. Free throws by Pegg and Perez put the game away though, as Stetson came away with the 81-72 victory.
"It gave us a ton of problems at the end," Alexander said of Jacksonville's pressure. "There was nothing different about what they were doing. We just lost our edge a little bit. Once you let your guard down at all against a team like that, or become a little more casual, or a little more timid, or a little bit more unsure, then the result is some real scary play."
Stetson finished with 12 turnovers, eight of which came in the second half, but a season high of 24 assists gave the Hatters a healthy 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. It marked the fourth time this season of recording 20 or more helpers in a game for the team that leads the conference in the category.
Perez totaled a season-high 23 points, one off of his career best, to lead the Hatters in the victory. Pegg added 22 points, reaching double figures for the 10th straight contest, on 10-of-19 shooting from the floor. He added seven rebounds in the win.
"Nineteen shots for Adam is the best part of the night," Alexander said of his center's performance. "That means he wants the ball, and that means we're getting it to him, and that's the first part of our offense every time we line up to play a game. Adam demanded the ball, and delivered."
Green gave Stetson three players in double figures, scoring 11 points. The junior forward made his mark on the boards though, grabbing a career best of 11 to record the second double-double of his career. More importantly, six of them came on the offensive side of the ball, which was also a career high.
"[Willie] gave us a huge lift," Alexander said of Green's rebounding. "Our offense is a hard one to really be a great offensive rebounder, because if you're playing the one-through-four spot then you're outside the three-point line most of the time when the shot goes up, so it takes a real effort. Everyone who watched the game saw a guy who wanted to be involved."
Stetson, now 5-10 on the season and even at 2-2 in conference play, will next head back on the road to play at ETSU on Thursday, Jan. 10. The Hatters will then take on USC Upstate in Spartanburg, S.C. on Saturday, Jan. 12 before returning home the next weekend.