Macon, Ga. – The Stetson men’s basketball team (13-14, 8-5 Atlantic Sun) took an 18-point lead and then withstood a furious rally by hosts Mercer to claim a 75-73 win Saturday night at the University Center. Junior forward Garfield Blair (Orlando, Fla.) recorded his second consecutive double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds, scoring his 1,000th career point in the process.
Down by nine with approximately three minutes left, Mercer (11-15, 6-7 A-Sun) simply wouldn’t go away, going on a 7-0 run, punctuated by a Calvin Henry slam off a feed from James Florence, to make it 66-64 with 2:07 left. Although the Bears would not score until the final minute, Shaddean Aaron hit a three-pointer with 27.6 seconds left that cut the Hatter lead to three, 70-67. Missed Stetson free throws allowed the Bears to hang around and Florence rained in yet another three-pointer to make it a two-point ballgame, 73-71, with 15 seconds left.
A torrid eight for 13 (61.5 %) showing from beyond the arc in the first half pushed the Hatters to a 34-19 advantage at the intermission. Florence, just as he did the first time these teams met at the Edmunds Center last month, began to catch fire in the second half, burying two quick threes to bring his team within 11 with 17:47 left.
After being fouled on the inbounds play, sophomore guard A.J. Smith (Cocoa, Fla.) stepped to the line and calmly sank two huge free throws to keep it a two-possession game. Henry made a second-chance basket in the paint to bring the Bears within 75-73, but his team could not manage to foul junior forward Eric Diaz (Miami, Fla.) until only 1.3 seconds remained; although Diaz missed both shots, Mercer could not collect the ball in time to take a final shot as the Hatters came away with the season sweep of Mercer.
Smith hit a three-pointer while being fouled, converted the four-point play, then drew a charge on Mercer guard Mark Hall, grabbed a rebound on the defensive end, swished another shot and made a driving layup in traffic, keying the Hatters through a strong stretch that put them ahead 47-31 at the first media timeout of the second half. Smith’s tenacity resulted in three fouls being whistled on Hall in a span of just six seconds.
The Bears would not be subdued so easily, however. A combination of Florence three-pointers and second chance buckets allowed Mercer to come within one with less than eight minutes to go. Stetson dug in its heels at that point, managing to go back up by six with 4:21 to go on a Diaz steal and breakaway dunk and pushing ahead by nine when junior guard Kris Thomas (Lithonia, Ga.) buried his third three-pointer of the game and the team’s 12th overall.
The game featured an interesting double milestone as both Blair and Florence reached the 1,000 career-point milestone in tonight’s game. Blair is the 29th Hatter in program history to score 1,000 points while Florence is the second in Mercer history to reach 1,000 as a sophomore.
Blair’s double-double was the third of his season and the fourth of his career; he had 24 points and 11 rebounds in Thursday’s loss at Kennesaw State. Smith scored 13 points with five rebounds and four assists; Thomas scored 12 points and sophomore guard Mark Lohuis (Vero Beach, Fla.) added 11. The Hatters made 12 three-pointers in the game, tying a season high on 57.1 percent perimeter shooting (12-21). Diaz pulled down seven rebounds.
Florence was simply electric for the Bears, scoring 33 points on seven of 16 three-point shooting while also handing out four helpers and grabbing four rebounds. Aaron tallied 14 points and seven rebounds, forward Brian Pfohl had 10 points and seven rebounds and Henry contributed eight points and nine rebounds.
Both teams struggled out of the gate offensively, although Lohuis’s three-pointer pushed Stetson to a 5-0 lead at the first media timeout. The Hatters did not allow Mercer to score for the first six minutes and 10 seconds, utilizing several blocked shots to keep the Bears off the scoreboard. Stetson continued its slow push, getting ahead 13-5 with just over eight minutes left in the half on a strong post move and basket by Blair.
The Hatters maintained their lead at a similar margin for most of the rest of the half. Perimeter shooting was a key weapon in Stetson’s arsenal as the team drained eight three-pointers before halftime, including a punctuating triple from Blair just before the buzzer to send the Hatters to the locker room ahead 34-19.
Blair, Lohuis and Thomas scored nine points each to drive Stetson with Blair also grabbing a team-high five rebounds. Florence had six points for Mercer and Pfohl scored five. Henry pulled down a game-high six boards to go with four points.
The Hatters are through with the road for the regular season, playing their final four contests at the friendly confines of the Edmunds Center. Non-conference foe Savannah State visits Tuesday evening at 7 p.m. Stetson fans can watch the webcast on Hatter Vision with audio provided by the Voices of Hatter Basketball, Murray Miller and Harry Arnold. All this is available on the official online home of Stetson Athletics, www.gohatters.com.