The Stetson men's basketball team (10-13, 7-5) held USC Upstate (13-12, 7-5) to just 38.0 percent shooting en route to a 73-66 victory on Thursday evening at the Edmunds Center. The Hatters overcame 21 turnovers and 16 Spartan offensive rebounds to record their 10th victory of the season, the most since 2008-09.
"I'm glad to get the win regardless of how it came," Stetson head coach Casey Alexander said following the game. "It was incredibly ugly, and the turnovers were the biggest part of that. That's all we worked on the last week of practices, so it's so frustrating to see us go right back out there and turn the ball over, but to come away with a win in spite of that is really big for our team."
Turning the ball over has been an issue for the Hatters as of late, but unlike the first two times this season that Stetson gave it away 20 or more times - at VCU and at FGCU - the team used other successes to come away with the victory.
Stetson held Upstate's two top players, reigning A-Sun Player of the Year Torrey Craig and reigning A-Sun Freshman of the Year Ty Greene, to a combined 9-of-40 (22.5%) from the field. Greene, who led the Spartans with 18 points the last time these two teams met, was held scoreless in the second half.
"Obviously the defensive numbers give us a chance," Alexander said. "We didn't play great offensively. Our shooting percentage was fine, but we didn't have a great night. Defensively we kept ourselves in the game, and that's why we won it. That's the difference between our team now and our team earlier this year."
After the Hatters sprinted out to an 8-5 lead through the first 2:53 of the first half, neither team scored for the next 4:24, as turnovers and missed shots plagued both squads. But after Greene made it 15-15 on a layup with 11:06 to play in the period, a three-pointer by junior Aaron Graham broke the final tie of the game and gave the Hatters a lead it would not relinquish for the rest of the contest.
Back and forth action continued until Stetson used a 7-2 run to take a 36-29 lead with 2:37 to play in the frame. A jumper by junior Chris Perez, a triple by junior Hunter Miller, and a left-handed hook by senior Adam Pegg gave the Hatters the slight advantage.
Unfortunately for Stetson, Upstate ended the half with five straight points to give the Hatters just a 36-34 lead at the break. Stetson benefited from 57.7 percent shooting from the field, and 12 points from Pegg during the period.
Junior Willie Green opened the second half with a dunk and a tip-in, and scored nine of his 11 total points in the first 8:10 of the period to lead the Hatters to a nine-point advantage by the midway point of the frame. Stetson extended its lead to 55-46 on a baseline runner by senior Joel Naburgs with 10:18 remaining.
The Hatters led by as many as 11 points. Miller's second three of the half and a post bucket by Pegg gave Stetson double digit leads at the 8:11 mark and the 5:38 mark in the second period, respectively. A timely three pointer and five free throws down the stretch gave Perez the Hatters' final eight points of the 73-66 victory.
It was Pegg, however, who led all scorers with 19 points in the contest. The center, who struggled offensively during Stetson's two losses in Jacksonville last weekend, got right back on track with an 8-for-12 night, and just one turnover.
"That was huge to have him back in what we're accustomed to seeing from him," Alexander said of Pegg. "Nineteen points on 12 shots is very good. The more he understands that his effort offensively to get open and demand the ball helps our team, the better we're going to be."
And help the Hatters it did, as Stetson shot 50.0 percent (27-of-54) from the floor and 50.0 percent (8-of-16) from beyond the arc in the victory. The four second half triples were noticeable, as Stetson had failed to knock down a second period three in its previous trio of losses.
Green finished with a solid overall night, scoring 11 points, grabbing nine rebounds, and dishing out five assists. Perez totaled 16 points while adding seven rebounds and three steals. Graham chipped in with nine points on 3-of-6 shooting from beyond the arc.
Craig led the Spartans with 16 points, while Fred Miller and Ricardo Glenn added 11 points and 10 points, respectively. Jodd Maxey led all players with 12 rebounds in the loss. Upstate shot just 38.0 percent from the floor, marking the second straight game Stetson held its opponent to less than 40 percent shooting.
Stetson will next host ETSU on Saturday, Feb. 9 at 3:15 p.m. The game can be watched on HatterVision and ASun.TV. Audio will be available on WSBB 1230 AM, 1490 AM, and MyAM1230.com.