|Stetson Stays in First; Wins Fifth Straight|
The Stetson men's basketball team (9-10, 6-2) led wire-to-wire in an 85-69 victory over visiting Lipscomb (7-11, 2-5) on Saturday afternoon at the Edmunds Center. It marked the fifth straight win for the Hatters, who remain on top of the Atlantic Sun Conference standings with a league mark of 6-2.
Five wins in a row is the most for Stetson since the 2007-08 season, and it is the first time since 2005-06 that the Hatters have won five straight A-Sun contests. Leading Mercer and Jacksonville by half a game in the standings, Stetson's 6-2 league record is the Hatters' best start to the conference slate since the 1998-99 campaign.
"We aren't celebrating yet," Stetson head coach Casey Alexander said after Saturday's game. "There's a whole lot of basketball left to be played, but I'm just happy for the Hatter fans who have been able to watch some wins here recently."
The Bisons never led in the contest, but Lipscomb gave Stetson all it could handle after topping Florida Gulf Coast in overtime on Thursday night. "That was quite a battle," Alexander said. "Sixteen-point differential at the end I don't think is quite the reflection of really how tough that game was. I'm proud of our guys for standing up and taking the fight."
Just as the Hatters have in each of the last five games during their current streak, they opened the scoring on Saturday. It was senior Adam Pegg with one of his two three-pointers of the game that gave Stetson the early advantage that it never relinquished.
Outscoring the Bisons 16-3 starting with a jumper in the lane by junior Chris Perez at the 11:22 mark, and culminating on a free throw by the same Hatter guard over seven minutes later, Stetson jumped out to a commanding 15-point lead late in the first half. Perez and junior Willie Green ignited the stretch, scoring seven points and six points, respectively.
Lipscomb used a 12-3 run to cut the Stetson advantage to just seven points, 36-29, at the break. The Bisons were staying in the game with offensive rebounding, recording seven in the first half alone, but a paltry 1-for-7 from beyond the arc allowed Stetson to remain in control.
The Hatters gave up a little ground to start the second half, as Lipscomb continued to ship away at Stetson's lead, using an 8-2 run to get as close as three point, at 49-46 with 13:33 to play in the game. Stetson fired straight back, though, scoring eight straight points on a three by junior Aaron Graham, as well as a put-back and a triple by Pegg. Stetson led by 11 points, its first double-digit lead of the second half.
The Bisons would only get as close as seven points the rest of the way, as Stetson countered every Lipscomb run, and nearly every Lipscomb basket, with one of their own. The Hatters went on to take the 85-69 victory, snapping a three-game losing streak against the Bisons.
"There are a lot of different ways you can measure it," Alexander said of withstanding runs. "But the belief that you're going to win the game, or the belief that you're the better team whether you are or not, helps you withstand those circumstances. You just overcome them easier, instead of compounding the problem with another mistake. That's a great sign of where we're heading."
Stetson put five players in double figures for only the second time this season, with Perez's 21 points leading the way. The guard added seven rebounds, six of which were on the offensive end, and two steals in the victory.
Pegg added 20 points and 10 rebounds in recording his second double-double of the season. It marked the fourth of his career, and it was the first 20-10 game for a Hatter since Pegg totaled 24 points and 10 rebounds against FGCU 364 days ago.
However, it was Pegg's defense on Lipscomb's freshman standout Stephen Hurt that may have been more impressive. The 6-10, 185 pound Hurt came in averaging 12.1 points and 8.4 rebounds with three A-Sun Newcomer of the Week honors and six double-doubles to his credit in his first season of competition. Pegg held Hurt to seven points and five rebounds.
"I think he took it as a challenge, personally, which you have to do when somebody's coming in that has the numbers he has," Alexander said of his center. "That was good to see. It's what you want. You want your fifth year senior to be the better guy over the second year freshman."
Graham finished with 16 points on four three-pointers, including two in the final nine minutes of play to help seal the victory. Adding three assists without a single turnover, Graham came up big for the Hatters. His 45 triples lead the Hatters on the season, and his 145 career threes place him fifth all-time at Stetson.
"That's his strength," Alexander said of Graham's three-point shooting. "He's the best we've got, so he needs to know that we have all the confidence in the world in him, and that's what we expect him to do. He's going to miss some, but he's going to make a lot of big ones."
Senior Joel Naburgs added 13 points and five assists, while Green added 10 points to give the Hatters five players in double figures. Alexander led Lipscomb with 23 points, while Khion Sankey and Malcolm Smith chipped in with 10 points each.
Stetson will now prepare for a three-game road trip within the state of Florida. The Hatters play at FGCU on Friday, Jan. 25 on CSS and ESPN3, at Jacksonville on Thursday, Jan. 31, and at North Florida on Saturday, Feb. 2.