The Stetson women's basketball team found itself in the rare position of facing a halftime deficit in the Atlantic Sun Tournament quarterfinals Tuesday night. The Hatters scored just 26 points in the opening 20 minutes, and none came from the league's Freshman of the Year Amber Porter.
"I thought (Amber) struggled in the first half and therefore our team struggled in the first half," Stetson head coach Lynn Bria said. "I sent her some encouraging words (at halftime), and she really responded in the second half."
Porter scored all 15 points of her points after the break, adding 12 rebounds and eight blocks to lead Stetson (25-6) to a 73-56 victory over Kennesaw State (6-24) at the Edmunds Center.
With their school-record 25th victory of the season, the second-seeded Hatters advance to play third-seeded USC Upstate in the A-Sun semifinals Saturday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. in Fort Myers, Fla. The winner will play for the A-Sun Championship Sunday at 3 p.m.
What were Bria's words of encouragement to Porter?
"We won’t share that," the Hatters coach responded to a reporter in the postgame news conference. "We like you but we are not going to share that."
The Hatters had only trailed once at halftime in their previous 18 games, but after shooting just 27 percent in the first half, Kennesaw State jumped to a 31-26 advantage at the break.
“I wasn’t surprised that (Kennesaw State was) playing so well, but I just felt that our energy defensively wasn’t very good," Bria said. "We were letting them do whatever they wanted to do. Once we started to turn them over and get easy baskets, then we started to flow better. We picked it up, we played harder, and we played more aggressively.”
Stetson opened the second half on a 10-0 run, highlighted by fastbreak baskets from C.J. Coddington and Brianti Sanders.
"Coach told us we had to push the ball in order to get our energy up, so as soon as Jama (Sharp) got the ball, I just sprinted to the lane," Saunders said.
Kennesaw State was able to push back and reagin a 44-43 lead following a basket from Gratia Brooks, but the Hatters outscored the Owls 18-2 over the next five minutes to break the game open.
Porter was 7-for-11 from the field in the final 20 minutes and recorded six of her school-record tying eight blocks after the break. She now ranks second all-time in A-Sun history with 118 blocks on the season.
"We knew our season wasn’t going to end here so we just picked it up (in the second half),” Porter said.
Joining Porter in double figures for Stetson was Saunders (16 points), Myeisha Hall (14 points), and C.J. Coddington (11 points). Sasha Sims added seven points, bringing her to within nine of breaking the school's all-time scoring record.
The Hatters outscored Kennesaw State 47-25 in the second half and shot 55% from the floor. Stetson hit just three three-pointers for the game while the Owls dropped in 10 shots from long range.
With FGCU's victory over Lipscomb, the top-seeded Eagles will host the A-Sun tournament's "final four" with Stetson, USC Upstate, and Mercer making the trip to Fort Myers. The Hatters swept the season series from the Spartans.
Saturday's semifinal games will be broadcast live on ESPN3.