Senior Willie Green scored 18 points, including the game-winning basket in the final moments of regulation, to lead the Stetson men’s basketball team to a 64-62 victory over Florida Atlantic Tuesday at the Edmunds Center.
With nine days between games the Hatters (2-10) came into the contest feeling more prepared for the challenge ahead. The Owls (3-9) came in winless on the road, but were battle tested with wins over UCF and Jacksonville, and close road losses at DePaul and Maryland.
“We were able to get in the gym and practice hard,” Stetson head coach Corey Williams said of the time off. “I think we gained some toughness there and learned how to value every possession. That made us better. We were conscious of making the right play and it carried over to today.”
Stetson was successful on both sides of the ball, shooting nearly 50 percent from the floor, led by Green’s 18 points on 6-for-9 shooting, and went 7-for-17 from beyond the arc, propelled by freshman Glenn Baral’s 3-for-3 from long range in the first half.
The Hatters held FAU to 43.8 percent shooting from the floor and just 31.3 percent from beyond the arc. The Owls’ leading scorer, senior Pablo Bertone, ended up with 18 total points, but the normally efficient shooting guard went 7-of-19 from the floor and just 1-of-3 from long range. Seniors Aaron Graham and Raymone Andrews were tasked with harassing Bertone for 40 minutes, and they succeeded.
“They are a very good basketball team,” Williams said of Florida Atlantic after the game. “I thought our guys competed to the very end. The thing that I’m encouraged by is the toughness that we played with at the very end.”
Stetson led by as many as five points in the first half when one of Baral’s threes gave the Hatters a two-point advantage, and six straight points from junior Kyle Sikora and redshirt freshman Brian Pegg made it 26-21 with 6:57 to play.
Senior Hunter Miller led an extremely efficient offense against the FAU zone, finding holes in the defense, which led to layups for Pegg and Sikora, and threes for Baral. Miller finished the night with five assists and no turnovers.
“We worked on it extensively,” Williams said of the Hatters’ zone offense. “We did such a good job against their zone that they got out of it. They started playing man. Hunter made great decisions. When guys were open, they got the ball, and they were receiving it in spots that they could make plays in.”
The Owls turned the tables on the Hatters by the end of the period, though, scoring the final eight points to take a 34-29 lead into the break.
After a three from Bertone gave FAU an eight-point lead moments into the second half, Stetson fought back and never let the Owls lead by double digits. The Hatter used three straight buckets by Green and junior Kentwan Smith to cut the deficit to one point, and finally tied the game on a three-pointer by Andrews with 4:18 to play.
It was another triple by Andrews that put Stetson on top for the first time in the second half, giving the Hatters a 62-60 lead with 2:18 to play.
Almost two minutes later – in which the Owls had five attempts at the basket – Justin Raffington threw down a putback dunk that tied the game once again, this time with just 24 seconds to play.
Williams called a timeout to settle his team down, and to set up a play. Andrews was able to penetrate the Owl defense and find Green in the middle of the paint. From there it was Green finishing over the front of the rim to give Stetson the go ahead bucket with just one second left on the clock. The Owls’ final attempt wasn’t close and the Hatters came away with the 64-62 victory.
Stetson finished with 18 assists to just eight turnovers. Moreover, the Hatters finished with 18 assists on 24 field goals. The Hatters also outscored FAU 30-20 in the paint.
Green led Stetson with 18 points, added a team high nine rebounds, and a game high three blocks. Baral and Smith added nine points, while Andrews and Graham chipped in with eight and seven, respectively.
Bertone led the Owls with 18 points, while adding five rebounds and six assists. D’Andre Johnson and Justin Raffington also scored in double figures, tallying 13 and 10, respectively.
Stetson will next return to the court on Dec. 30 as the Hatters open up Atlantic Sun Conference play against Lipscomb. The Hatters and the Bisons are scheduled to tip off at 7:00 p.m. at the Edmunds Center.
“I think our guys understand now that we can win games like this,” Williams concluded. “All we have to do is fight through it. I liked what we showed tonight. We showed resolve.”