The Stetson men’s basketball team opened up the 2013-14 season with an exhibition victory over Division II Tampa, defeating the Spartans by a score of 61-59 at the Edmunds Center on Saturday afternoon.
“I thought that we did some things well, but we have some things that we need to correct,” Stetson first year head coach Corey Williams said. “We have to improve on [the turnovers], and our on the ball defense has to improve as well, but I saw some good things.”
The Hatters got out to a sloppy start, falling behind early to Tampa. Unable to hit from beyond the arc, and turning the ball over a bit, as is to be expected in the first game of the season, Stetson trailed Tampa 11-2 through six minute of play.
Stetson quickly worked out some of the kinks in using a 10-2 run to cut the Spartan lead to one point at 13-12 with 10:07 to play in the first half. As was the case all day long, a number of Hatters contributed during the run. Ignited by a layup from redshirt freshman Brian Pegg, and closed by a three-pointer from senior Aaron Graham, Stetson got back into the game quickly.
Back and forth action continued throughout the rest of the first half as Tampa took a one-point lead into halftime when leading scorer Da’Markco Foster’s two free throws made it 27-26 late in the period.
Foster’s eight first half points helped lead the Spartans to the early advantage, while Stetson’s inaccurate shooting kept the Hatters from taking control. The Hatters were just 2-for-14 from beyond the arc over the first 20 minutes, which Williams credited to nerves of playing in the first game of the season.
“We showed some poise,” Williams said. “I told our guys that we just had to settle down, let the game come to us, don’t force anything, take the shots in rhythm, and we’d be fine. It’s a tendency to be tense because it’s the first exhibition game. [Players] tighten up and those shots you normally make end up hitting the front of the rim.”
It was junior Kentwan Smith who put the Hatters on top early in the second half, converting on a layup and making one of two free throws to give Stetson a 29-28 lead two minutes into the period.
Good full court pressure allowed the Spartans to regain the lead, and extend their advantage to as many as six points. A tip-in by Bastien Motte and a free throw by Eric Moraes made it 45-39 in favor of Tampa with 10:39 to play in the game.
Although nearly even in turnovers for the game – Stetson with 17 and Tampa with 16 – it was the Spartans who took advantage of it, scoring 21 points off of takeaways to just 14 for the Hatters.
A three-pointer by sophomore Tanner Plemmons, one of three in the game for the second year guard, brought the Hatters back within one point at 46-45, but it was a three by freshman Raekwon Harney that gave Stetson the lead at 52-50 and pushed momentum into the Hatters’ favor. Senior Hunter Miller found Harney for a wide open trey at the top of the key.
Four straight points by senior Willie Green and a coast-to-coast layup from Harney extended Stetson’s lead to eight points, at 58-50 with 3:09 to play.
Tampa did cut the Hatter advantage back to just one point in the final minute of play, but a free throw by Miller gave Stetson the 61-59 victory as the Spartans final effort fell short.
With 11 players earning playing time for the Hatters in the first exhibition of the season, there was no shortage of experience for the Stetson squad that has plenty of new faces in 2013-14.
Both veterans and newcomers contributed for Stetson on Saturday as Smith led the way with 11 points. The junior transfer went 7-of-12 from the free throw line, grabbed five rebounds, and blocked two shots in 19 minutes of play.
Pegg chipped in with 10 points on 3-of-4 shooting from the floor and six rebounds. Green led Stetson with nine boards in the win, and added nine points. Plemmons also added nine points, while Harney finished with seven points, three rebounds, three assists, and three steals.
Foster led Tampa with a game high 16 points, while Moraes led all players with 10 rebounds in the loss.
“We don’t want to be playing our best right now,” Williams said. “We want to identify what we need to work on, and we’ll work on those mistakes.”
Stetson will continue exhibition play with another home contest on Monday, Nov. 4. The Hatters will host Palm Beach Atlantic at 7:00 p.m. at the Edmunds Center.