ESTERO, Fla. – The Stetson men’s basketball fought for 40 minutes, but came up just short on the final day of competition at the Gulf Coast Showcase. The Hatters fell to UNCG by a score of 75-68 Wednesday at Germain Arena.
“It was a real hard fought game by two teams that were desperate for a win,” Stetson head coach Corey Williams said. “UNCG really came out to play and I thought our guys did as well. We are making steps in the right direction. We just need to get some wins up under our belt.
“I was very impressed with the enthusiasm we had,” Williams went on to say. “When we came out they were ready to go. The enthusiasm the bench had during the game [was also nice to see]. They were fired up. That’s the stuff that I look for as a coach, and we can build on that.”
That enthusiasm resulted in a hot start for the Hatters (0-8) as Stetson raced out to a 12-4 lead just over four minutes into the game. Junior Kentwan Smith and senior Willie Green both connected on one two-pointer and one three-pointer each during the stretch to take the early advantage.
Stetson started 6-of-6 from the field with nearly perfect offensive execution from the jump, and senior point guard Raymone Andrews assisted on five of the six Hatter buckets.
The Spartans (4-3) eventually climbed back into the contest midway through the first half, using back-to-back triples by Drew Parker to tie the game at 23-23 with 6:29 remaining in the opening frame. After a pair of free throws by senior Aaron Graham gave Stetson the lead again, at 34-32 with 1:14 remaining, four straight points gave UNCG a 36-34 advantage at the break.
Stetson came out ready to play again in the first half, opening up the final 20 minutes with a jumper by Smith to tie the game. The Hatters took the lead again at 41-40 with 15:25 to play when Andrews converted a conventional three-point play in the lane.
The Stetson lead extended to as much as five points twice in the second half. Green, who played very little in the first half due to two quick fouls, scored on back-to-back Hatter possessions, both scores in the paint coming off of Andrews assists.
After a layup by junior Kyle Sikora tied the game at 61-61 with 7:11 to play, UNCG’s Kayel Locke knocked down two free throws to give the Spartans’ their final lead of the game.
Down two points, at 70-68 with 1:11 on the clock after Graham connected on a tough drive in the paint, Andrews was called for a foul on a driving Jordan Potts with just 38 second remaining. Potts knocked down both free throws and the Hatter turned the ball over on their next possession, essentially sealing the game for the Spartans.
UNCG held on for the 75-68 win, the team’s first of the tournament.
Andrews finished with his best game of the season for the Hatters, scoring 16 points, recording a career high seven assists, and turning the ball over just two times. Green totaled 15 points on 6-of-10 shooting in a nice bounce back game, while Graham chipped in with 11.
Smith led Stetson with nine rebounds, just one shy of his career best, but it was UNCG’s Kyle Cain who led all players with 11 boards and 21 points. The Spartans put three other players in double figures and finished the game shooting 47.1 percent from the floor and 46.7 percent from long distance.
Stetson put forth one of its best performances to date, using team basketball to execute efficiently on offense. The Hatters shot over 40 percent from the floor, over 80 percent from the charity stripe, and assisted on 16 of their 22 field goals. Stetson also turned the ball over just 10 times in the contest.
Overall, though, the Hatters finished the week 0-3 and are still without a victory early in the 2013-14 season.
“It was tough for us,” Williams said of three games in three days at the tournament. “We had just played USF, and then we had to come down here and make this trip. You learn a lot about your team; how tough they are, what kind of resolve they have, and I thought at times we showed the kind of toughness that I like to see.”
After eight straight games on the road to start the season, Stetson will finally return to DeLand for the squad’s home opener on Saturday. The Hatters host Davidson at the Edmunds Center at 1:00 p.m. All of the action can be followed on HatterVision and the Hatters Radio Network.
Williams concluded his post-game press conference on Wednesday saying “We are getting better. I can’t emphasize that enough. We are getting better.”