The Stetson men’s basketball team used an 18-point first half lead to hold on for a 56-52 win over Bethune-Cookman, earning head coach Corey Williams the first victory of his collegiate coaching career Tuesday evening at the Edmunds Center.
“As excited as I am about my first win, I’m more excited that [these players] got their first win,” Williams said after the game. “We needed this as a team.”
Earning their first victory of the season after eight road games and a home-opener against Davidson to start the year, the Hatters (1-9) didn’t make it easy on themselves. Leading 41-23 at the break, Stetson allowed Bethune-Cookman (2-8) to cut the Hatter lead to just eight points, at 46-38, midway through the second period.
A 15-5 run to start the frame, which culminated with a tip-in by Travis Elliott, which made it 46-40 in favor of Stetson with 8:54 to play, was countered by a big three-pointer by Stetson senior Raymone Andrews.
Andrews, who had just come in off the bench after sitting the previous three minutes with four fouls, knocked down his third triple of the game to increase the Hatter lead back up to nine points. Another Elliott layup was followed up by perfectly executed back door play from senior Hunter Miller to Andrews to push the Stetson lead to nine again, this time at 51-42 with 7:14 to play.
“I was trying to keep him out as long as I could,” Williams said of Andrews. “He had four fouls and I didn’t want him to get his fifth. I know how important he is to our basketball team. Thankfully, he stayed the course. He played within himself, he made good decisions, and he kept himself out of harm’s way.”
Andrews couldn’t stop the Wildcats from scoring on the other end though, as Bethune-Cookman scored eight straight points to cut the Stetson lead to just one point, at 51-50 with 2:22 to play.
Stetson was struggling offensively in the final moments; so on back-to-back possessions Williams called a timeout to set up a play. On both occasions the Hatters found senior Willie Green in the post and the forward came up big.
With just over a minute to play he forced a Wildcat foul and hit both of his free throws to make it 53-50. On the Hatters’ next possession, he connected on a difficult post layup with a defender all over him to make it 55-52 with just 34 seconds on the clock.
A final Stetson defensive stop led to a rebound by redshirt-freshman Brian Pegg, and a subsequent free throw by Pegg put the game out of reach for the Wildcats. Stetson escaped with the 56-52 victory, the squad’s first of the season.
“It wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad,” Williams said of the team’s defense in the second half. “We held them to 35 percent shooting in the second half and we did a fantastic job in the first half. That keeps you in the ball game.”
The first half was great for the Hatters, who shot 51.7 percent from the floor and held Bethune-Cookman to just 28.6 shooting from the floor and 14.3 percent from beyond the arc. Stetson’s 41-23 first half lead was the team’s largest advantage of the season.
“Well we played a terrific first half of basketball, and then the second half…we didn’t show up,” said Williams. “We were very fortunate to win that basketball game. It’s interesting that you could play so well the first half and then not come back out with that same energy and enthusiasm in the second half.
“We’ve yet to play forty minutes,” Williams went on to say. “I know it’s going to happen at some point, and I’m looking forward to it happening.”
Green led Stetson in scoring for the fifth time this season, finishing the night with 18 on 7-of-10 from the field, five rebounds, two blocks and one steal. Andrews added 11 points on three from down town, five rebounds, and six assists.
Junior Kentwan Smith chipped in with 10 points, seven rebounds, two blocks, and one steal. Pegg led the Hatters with eight rebounds and added seven points.
Bethune-Cookman was led by Barry Smith who scored 10 points and recorded a game-high 12 rebounds for a double-double. Clemmye Owens and Tony Kynard chipped in with 12 and 11, respectively.
“I’m just so grateful that we were able to pull this one out,” Williams concluded. “It shows the fortitude that we have because at the end we could have easily folded.”