Amidst a four-game losing skid and down a top scorer, the Stetson men’s basketball team held visiting ETSU to just 31 percent shooting in the second half and outscored the Buccaneers 37-28 over the final 20 minutes to win 64-58 Thursday night at the Edmunds Center.
“I thought our guys played together,” Stetson head coach Corey Williams said after the game. “I thought we had guys step up. We are always talking about playing 40 minutes, and that was pretty close to 40 minutes. I’m awfully proud of the effort we gave.”
The Hatters (4-14, 2-4) came into Thursday’s contest having lost four straight Atlantic Sun Conference tilts after opening league play with a win over Lipscomb. They were ready to go from the jump on their home court though, which is where Stetson has earned all four of its victories this season.
Senior Willie Green opened the scoring with a layup in the paint against ETSU’s zone defense thanks to good offensive execution by the Hatters, and that was a trend that continued. Back-and-forth action ensued as neither team was able to attain more than a four point advantage until the final moments of the first half.
ETSU (9-9, 2-3) went up 30-24 with 30 seconds remaining on a tip-in by Kinard Gadsden-Gilliard. After a 30 second timeout, Stetson executed perfect zone offense in the final moments, as Green found freshman Glenn Baral for an open three from the corner to cut the Hatter deficit to just three points at the break.
“I wanted them to want the ball,” Williams said of his posts against the zone. “When we got it in there good things happened. Willie was able to make some passes, Brian Pegg was able to make some passes, and then the defense collapsed and we were able to find shooters out on the perimeter.”
Stetson played the entire game without senior point guard Raymone Andrews, who sat out due to an injury, but fellow senior point guard Hunter Miller stepped up big in his place. The veteran played 34 minutes, scored six points, handed out five assists, grabbed seven rebounds, and was integral in the Hatters’ ability to maneuver around ETSU’s defense.
“He stepped up,” Williams said of Miller. “We talked about it. He knew he was going to be without his partner in crime. It’s one thing to be out on the floor, but it’s another thing to make a difference, and he made a difference.”
The Bucs led by as many as seven when Rashawn Rembert’s three made it 37-30 just three and a half minutes into the second frame, but a conventional three-point play by Green on a dunk from the baseline and another triple from Baral off of an assist from Miller quickly got the Hatters back into the game.
After Jalen Riley knocked down a three to give ETSU its final lead of the game, a 54-51 advantage with 4:50 to play, Miller drove through the Buccaneer zone, finished off the glass, and completed a three-point play to tie the game.
It was Green who gave the Hatters’ their final lead of the game. The senior finished off a layup from junior Kentwan Smith to make it 60-58 in favor of Stetson with 1:18 to play. Free throws by Miller and Smith and key defensive stops sealed the victory for the home team down the stretch.
Green led Stetson with 15 points, five assists, and tied a career best with four blocks in the victory. Smith added 13 points, six rebounds, and two blocks, while redshirt-freshman Brian Pegg chipped in with 11 points and six boards for the Hatters. Miller’s seven rebounds were a team high.
The Hatters held ETSU to 38.9 percent shooting from the floor in the game, including the aforementioned 31.0 percent second half mark. Stetson got to the line 22 times, something the team has done well lately, but this time around they knocked down a majority of the freebies, finishing 16-of-22 from the stripe.
“We really stepped up defensively,” said Williams. “We really had to get to shooters and I thought we did that. To hold a team down to 31 percent in the second half, that’s pretty darn good for us.”
ETSU was led by Hunter Harris with 13 points and Jalen Riley with 12. Gadsden-Gilliard totaled a game high eight rebounds in the defeat.
Stetson will continue the home-stand hosting USC Upstate Saturday at 1:00 p.m.