The Stetson men's basketball team (14-15) is set to play in its first Atlantic Sun Conference Championship since 2008-09 at Mercer University's Hawkins Arena this week. The third seeded Hatters will take on sixth seeded ETSU (10-21) in the quarterfinals of the 2013 A-Sun Tournament Thursday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. on ESPN3.
The only player on this year's roster who has even been to the conference tournament is fifth-year senior, J.R. Weston. The guard was a true freshman, redshirting his first season with the Hatters, when Stetson bowed out to ETSU 90-76 back in the first round in 2009.
"When you're in that type of situation, when it's one-and-done, every play is that much more important," Weston said of the experience that only he and the Stetson coaching staff could really relate to. "On every play the other team is going to be coming after you with a little bit more aggression and effort. You might never get back here again, so you have to give everything you have every single play."
Stetson is back to the Atlantic Sun Tournament, and Weston is proud to be a part of it. The Hatters are having one of their best seasons in a long time, as Stetson's 14 regular season wins, and 11 conference victories were the most since the 2007-08 season.
"It's meant a lot to be able to be here and see it all happen," Weston said of the program's recent resurgence. "We had some rough years, and when everyone was putting in so much work, to be sitting at home watching the other teams getting the chance to do something special, it was hard. I feel really proud that I'm on the team that has finally been able to get back to the tournament."
In order to advance in the tournament, and attempt to seek its first ever Atlantic Sun Conference Championship, Stetson will have to defeat ETSU on Thursday. As mentioned above, the last time the Hatters were in the tournament, they were eliminated in the first round by the Buccaneers. In fact, two of Stetson's last three appearances in the A-Sun Tournament resulted in losses to ETSU.
This season the two teams split a pair of close games, with each team winning on the others' home court. In early January Stetson defeated ETSU by a score of 72-70 in Johnson City as part of a five-game win streak. In early February the Hatters gave up a 20-point second half lead and the Bucs won at the buzzer, 62-61, in DeLand.
If the Hatters defeat ETSU on Thursday, they will advance to play the winner of #2 FGCU and #7 North Florida on Friday at either 5:30 p.m. or 8:00 p.m. The winner of that game will move on to the championship game on Saturday at noon.
Thursday's game can be watched on ESPN3 and the Watch ESPN app with Matt Stewart and Sonny Smith on the call. WSBB 1230 AM New Smyrna Beach, 1490 AM DeLand, and MyAM1230.com will also carry the game with play-by-play from Robbie Aaron. Live Stats, the @StetsonMBB Twitter feed, and Hat-Alerts will also be available for in-game updates.
The semifinals will be telecast on CSS, as well as ESPN3, Watch ESPN, and ASun.TV. Saturday's Championship game will be live on ESPN2 as well as Watch ESPN.
ESPN3 and WatchESPN is available to fans who receive ESPN's linear networks as part of their video subscription from Time Warner Cable, Bright House Networks, Verizon FiOS TV, Comcast Xfinity TV or Midcontinent Communications, Cablevision or Cox Communications. The app is available free to download for Android devices from the Google Play store and Amazon Appstore and for Apple devices from the App Store, as well as online via WatchESPN.com.