MACON, Ga. - The Stetson men's basketball team (15-15) used an 18-1 run midway through the game to defeat ETSU (10-22) by a score of 67-46 in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship at Hawkins Arena on Thursday. It marked the first A-Sun Tournament win for the Hatters since 2006.
"I'm proud of our team for just sticking with it," Stetson head coach Casey Alexander said after the win. "It feels great. There are 10 of us in the league, and after tonight there will only be four of us still playing. I'm proud of our guys."
Stetson, which recorded its largest margin of victory in the A-Sun Tournament since 1992-93, held ETSU to just 25.4 percent shooting for the game, setting a new tournament record for field goal percentage defense. The Bucs' 46 points on the game tied the Hatters' season best for scoring defense. It didn't start out so well for Stetson though.
The Bucs had things going their way in the first half, slowing the Hatters down with their zone defense, and taking advantage of 10 Stetson turnovers. ETSU shot just 25.0 percent from the floor, but grabbed eight offensive rebounds to take a 24-21 lead at the break.
ETSU used a 10-1 run to turn a 15-14 Stetson lead with 17:25 remaining into a 24-16 Buccaneer advantage with just 1:45 to play in the frame. Freshman John Walton came off the bench to score five points during that stretch to extend the ETSU lead to eight late in the first.
A difficult bucket in the lane by senior Adam Pegg was followed by a much needed defensive stop by the Hatters as the final minute of the half approached. A second straight post basket by the all-conference center was followed by a steal from junior Aaron Graham. Junior Willie Green then knocked down 1-of-2 free throws to cut the Stetson deficit to just three points at halftime.
Stetson came out with energy to start the second half as a tip-in by Green opened up the frame. After a single free throw by sophomore Rashawn Rembert, Stetson scored 11 straight points, capped by a pair of free throws from junior Hunter Miller to give the Hatters a 34-25 lead with 14:11 to play.
The Hatters weren't done then. Two free throws by Pegg were the culmination of a 36-6 run by the Hatters that began with the senior's layup with 1:26 to play in the first half. The stretch gave Stetson a 52-30 lead with 7:02 to play.
Unlike the last time these two teams met, when ETSU overcame a 20-point deficit to top the Hatters in DeLand, Stetson didn't give up ground. Defensive stop after defensive stop, and handling the ball much better on the offensive end, allowed the Hatters to cruise to the 67-46 victory.
Stetson turned the ball over just six times in the second half, giving the Hatters 16 for the game. The team finished 48.9 (22-of-45) percent from the floor, but just 27.8 (5-of-18) from three-point range. The Hatters overcame 12 offensive rebounds for the Bucs by outrebounding them 43-30 overall.
Efficiently dealing with early second half foul trouble for Pegg and second team all-conference junior Chris Perez, Stetson received contributions from a number of players on Thursday. Pegg finished the game with a game high 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting, and added nine rebounds.
Senior Joel Naburgs added 16 points, including two three-pointers, while grabbing five rebounds, and dishing out four assists. Green led the Hatters with 13 rebounds and chipped in 13 points for his third double-double of the year. The junior forward also added three blocks in the victory.
Stetson now moves onto the semifinals for the first time since the 2005-06 season, and will take on second seeded Florida Gulf Coast (22-10) Friday at 8:00 p.m. The game between the Hatters and the Eagles will be featured on CSS and ASun.TV, and will be available on ESPN3 for viewers outside the CSS footprint. Fans can also listen live on WSBB 1230 AM, 1490 AM, and at MyAM1230.com.
Notes: This marked the first appearance in the A-Sun Tournament for Stetson since 2008-09...It was the first win since 2005-06, a 54-44 defeat of Florida Atlantic...This was the Hatters' first A-Sun Tournament win against ETSU (1-2 overall)...The win marked the first for the #3 in the quarterfinals since 2009, and just the second over the last eight tournaments...It was the first A-Sun Tournament victory for Casey Alexander as a head coach...He previously won four Championships as an assistant coach for Belmont...Holding ETSU to 25.4 percent marked a new A-Sun Tournament record...The previous best was 29.6 percent when Stetson held FAU to 16-of-54 in 2006...Green's 13 rebounds were a career high, topping his previous best of 11, recorded four times.