Behind a career high 27 points from senior Joel Naburgs, the Stetson men's basketball team (13-14, 10-6) avenged a road loss from earlier in the season, defeating Florida Gulf Coast (19-10, 11-5) by a score of 80-71 at home on Friday night.
"It was a whole lot better than it was when we stepped on that bus in Fort Myers to come back [to DeLand] a few weeks ago," Stetson head coach Casey Alexander said, alluding to the loss at FGCU on Jan. 25. "I have to give our guys a ton of credit for just staying the course. Several times we had the chance to back down, to let them kind of be the aggressors and run away with it, but we found a way to make plays."
Although FGCU opened the game with a dunk by sophomore Eric McKnight, Friday night's game never felt reminiscent of the contest in Fort Myers that the Eagles won by 31 points. Stetson quickly countered with five straight points by Naburgs and junior Willie Green to take its first lead of the game, and never trailed by more than six points at any point in the first half.
Behind 36-34 at the break, Naburgs opened the second frame with his fourth three-pointer of the night and ignited a 10-0 run that put the Hatters up 44-36 just over two minutes into the second period. The healthy advantage didn't last long though, as the Eagles countered to cut the Stetson lead to just two, at 46-44, with 14:25 to play.
The back-and-forth action then continued as a triple by senior Liam McInerney was followed by threes from Naburgs and junior Chris Perez to give the Hatters an 11-point lead, at 55-44, their largest of the game.
A 13-0 run by FGCU gave the Eagles the lead for the first since the start of the second half, and they held onto a four-point advantage as late as the five minute mark. It was big shot after big shot for the veteran Hatters, as a jumper by Green, and threes by senior Adam Pegg and junior Hunter Miller, helped the Hatters regain the advantage, 71-69.
A layup by FGCU's Brett Comer tied the game one final time, at 71-71 with 2:16 to play, but Stetson went 7-for-8 from the line, and added a pretty back door layup from Green to Perez, to score the final nine points of the game and hang on for the 80-71 victory.
Naburgs finished with a career high 27 points on 8-of-12 shooting, and 6-of-9 from beyond the arc. His fourth three of the game was the 171st of his career, making him the all-time leader in three-pointers made at Stetson. Naburgs also added seven rebounds, six assists, and turned the ball over just once.
"You can't ask for more than that," Naburgs said after the best game of his career, which happened to be on the Australian's birthday. "We've been having a great week of practice, so we had full momentum going into this game. I think we showed everybody how good we are."
"First of all I'm really happy for him," Alexander said of his senior guard. "Joel works as hard as anybody in our program. He's as committed to our team as anybody that we've got. He's battled through some tough seasons. So I'm really excited that's he's getting rewarded personally."
Perez scored 19 points, and Green totaled 15 points to help the Hatters. Pegg chipped in with nine points on just 4-of-5 shooting, but added a game high 11 rebounds in the victory. The Hatters overcame 23 team turnovers with 54.2 percent shooting and 52.4 percent shooting from beyond the arc.
Bernard Thompson led the Eagles with 19 points, while Sherwood Brown added 18 points and a team high nine rebounds. Chase Fieler and Brett Comer chipped in with 10 points apiece. Comer led all FGCU players with six assists in the defeat.
Stetson, alone in third place again for at least a day, is now only one game back of FGCU for second place in the Atlantic Sun Conference. The Hatters will next host Kennesaw State at the Edmunds Center on Thursday, Feb. 28 at 7:15 p.m.
Notes: Naburgs' 171st three-pointer passed Kerry Blackshear, who totaled 170 triples from 1992-96...His 27 points, eight field goals, and six three-pointers were all career highs, topping his previous best of 20 points set vs. FGCU on Jan. 25, 2011...The senior's six assists also placed him in the top 10 all-time at Stetson with 275 career helpers...The 13 total wins for Stetson this season are the most since going 13-17 in 2008-09...The 10 A-Sun victories for the Hatters are the most since going 11-5 in league play in 2007-08.