The Stetson men's basketball team (10-14, 7-6) gave away a 20-point second half lead and fell to ETSU (8-18, 6-7) by a score of 62-61 on Saturday afternoon at the Edmunds Center. The Hatters turned the ball over 14 times and shot just 30.4 percent (7-of-23) in the second half.
"It's incredibly discouraging and disappointing to let that game get away from us, and it's easy to point to the last possessions, but the last 10 minutes of the game was where the game was lost," Stetson head coach Casey Alexander said after the loss. "It was outrageous how inefficient we were offensively, and how they outhustled us for loose balls and rebounds. I told our team we got what we deserved."
The game didn't start out in such a disappointing fashion. A three-pointer by junior Hunter Miller gave Stetson a 3-2 lead, a lead it did not give up until the final moments on Saturday. The long range shooting continued to work against the Bucs' zone, as triples by freshman Tanner Plemmons and junior Aaron Graham gave the Hatters an 18-10 lead with 12:21 left in the first half.
It was about three and a half minutes later that a bucket in the post by senior Adam Pegg ignited an 18-6 run that gave Stetson a healthy 15-point advantage with just 1:24 remaining in the period. Pegg scored five points during the stretch, which also included a pair of threes by senior Joel Naburgs, and one triple apiece for Plemmons and Graham.
The two squads traded baskets before an ETSU three-pointer by Rashawn Rembert at the buzzer made it 38-26 in favor of the Hatters at the break. Stetson played extremely well in the first, finishing 14-of-29 (48.3%) from the floor, 8-of-16 (50.0%) from three, and turned it over only three times, while holding the Bucs to just 26 points.
Stetson continued the success early in the second, using a 10-0 run to increase its lead to 20 points at 54-34 with 12:10 to play. Back-to-back buckets by Pegg, and Graham's fourth three-pointer of the contest highlighted the run that could have put the game away.
It didn't. The Hatters went without a field goal for the next eight minutes and 57 seconds, recording just two free throws as ETSU cut the Stetson lead down six points, at 55-49, with 5:12 to play. A Pegg free throw preceded the aforementioned first basket since 12:10, a driving layup by junior Chris Perez that increased Stetson's lead back to nine points, at 58-49 with 3:13 remaining.
The Hatters turned the ball over 11 times in the final 11 minutes of play to allow ETSU back in the game. A layup by Hunter Harris and a traditional three-point play got the Bucs right back in the game, but it was a triple by Rembert that pulled ETSU within one-point, at 58-57, with 2:06 to play.
"They were more aggressive, and they trapped us on occasion, but who cares?" Alexander said of the second half. "We made two or three turnovers and then we got scared. We were timid to pass, catch, we quit playing offense, which means shots weren't as good, which means shots didn't go in. I give them a lot of credit, but you can't make 14 turnovers in a half and shoot 30 percent, and expect to be any good."
A huge three-pointer by Graham from the corner, his fifth of the night, put Stetson back up by four points with 1:29 left, but that was the last time the Hatters would score. Harris connected on a layup in the post on the Bucs' next time down court to cut their deficit down to two points.
With a pair of offensive rebounds by Perez and Graham, Stetson's next possession lasted nearly an entire minute, but a travel by Graham immediately after grabbing his rebound gave ETSU the ball with 16 seconds to play.
Similarly to the end of the first half, it was Rembert getting the last shot off, this time a three-pointer from the right corner that touched nothing but net to give ETSU its first lead since it was 2-0. Stetson's final attempt resulted in yet another turnover and the buzzer sounded to give ETSU the 62-61 victory over the Hatters.
"We were well aware of the many times they've already come back on teams this year," Alexander said of the Bucs' impressive track record in 2012-13. "Florida Gulf Coast was up 19 in the second half, and ETSU came back and beat them by 10. We talked about it, but you have to just keep playing. There's no excuse. It was equal parts good by them and bad by us."
Graham led Stetson with 15 points on 5-of-10 shooting from beyond the arc. It marked the seventh time in his career that the guard has made five triples in a game. He is now fourth all-time at Stetson with 156 career threes, trailing just teammate Naburgs (164), A.J. Smith (167), and Kerry Blackshear (170).
Pegg added 10 points, recording double digit points for the 19th straight game, and added six rebounds. Junior Willie Green led all players with 11 rebounds, tying his career high. Naburgs chipped in with nine points on 3-of-6 from beyond the arc.
The Hatters finished with 17 turnovers, which led to 21 ETSU points. Stetson shot 30.4 percent from the floor, and 30.0 percent from three-point range in the second half, recording its lowest outing in a period (23 points) since putting up just 22 in the first half at Virginia Commonwealth on Nov. 28.
Jarvis Jones led ETSU with 17 points, but it was Rembert's 16 on 4-of-7 from beyond the arc that proved to come at the right times. Harris added 12 points and 10 rebounds, while Walton totaled a game-high five steals in the victory.
Stetson will next head back on the road for its final road trip of the regular season. The Hatters play at Lipscomb on Feb. 14 at 6:30 p.m. local time, 7:30 p.m. Eastern, and then make their first trip to Highland Heights, Ky. to take on Northern Kentucky on Feb. 16 at 7:00 p.m.