JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - Junior Chris Perez scored a career high 32 points, but his final attempt fell short as the Stetson men's basketball team (9-12, 6-4) fell to Jacksonville (12-11, 7-3) on the road by a score of 71-70 on Thursday night.
Stetson trailed by as many as nine early on, falling behind 17-8 after a 6-0 run by the Dolphins. The Hatters struggled in taking care of the ball, recording 11 turnovers in the first period. Trailing 19-10 after a jumper by Jacksonville's Kordario Fleming, Stetson used an 11-2 run to tie the game for the first time since 0-0, making it 21-21 on a dunk by junior Willie Green with 6:44 to play.
The Hatters then used a 9-0 run late in the first half to take 34-30 lead into the break. A three by junior Hunter Miller tied the game at 28-28 with 4:26 to play before a layup by senior Adam Pegg gave Stetson its first lead of the game at 30-28. A runner by Green and another layin from Pegg put the Hatters up six points, at 34-28, with less than a minute remaining in the period.
With 15 lead changes in the second half, it truly could have gone either way. Jacksonville extended its lead to as many as six points, at 55-49 with 10:34 to play, when two free throws by Fleming concluded a 7-1 run.
It was a 6-2 run by the Hatters, however, finished off by one of many tough baskets from Perez that gave Stetson a 63-62 lead with under five minutes to play and got SU right back in the game.
With just 1:25 to play, Perez converted a traditional three-point play to put the Hatters up 68-66, but 30 seconds later it was Fleming who recorded a conventional three-point play to put the Dolphins back on top, 69-68 with 54 seconds to play.
Perez came right back with another basket in the lane to give Stetson the lead one final time. Jacksonville's last offensive possession was defended well by the Hatters, but a rebound an put-back by Keith McDougald put the Dolphins up one point with just 20 seconds remaining.
Stetson came down the court one final time, but when the play that was drawn up didn't work, Head Coach Casey Alexander called a timeout to set something else up. On the restart, a fade to Perez worked to perfection, but the junior's mid-range jumper went long and Jacksonville escaped with the 71-70 victory at home.
Perez's 32 points topped his previous career high of 24, set against Kennesaw State on Jan. 2, 2012. The guard added seven rebounds and three steals to lead the Hatters in the defeat. Pegg finished with 12 points, marking his 16th straight game in double figures.
"It seemed like every time we needed a basket he came through with it," Alexander said of Perez. "You have to give him a lot of credit. Chris wants to win as bad as anybody I've ever been around. Tonight he gave us a real chance to do that."
McDougald led Jacksonville with 19 points and seven rebounds, while Fleming added 16 points in the victory. Jarvis Haywood chipped in with 11 points and seven boards.
"Any time you lose in that fashion it's going to be hard to bounce back from," Alexander said. "I was really disappointed in how we started the game. We weren't being sharp offensively, but we also responded better. We got ourselves back in the game, settled down, and took the lead at halftime, but I don't think we played well enough to deserve to win the game."
Stetson will next play at North Florida on Saturday at 4:30 p.m. The game can be viewed on ASun.TV and HatterVision. Live audio will also be available on 1230 AM, 1490 AM, and MyAM1230.com.