DeLand, Fla. – Saturday night in the Edmunds Center, Cocoa’s A.J. Smith scored a career-high 23 points to lead the Stetson men’s basketball team to an 81-64 win over conference foe Jacksonville. With the win the Hatters avenged a 98-94 triple-overtime loss to the Dolphins in Jacksonville earlier this season, finished with a three-game winning streak on their home floor, and secured the #3 seed in next week’s Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament.
The Dolphins struck first, yet their initial lead did not last long. With 15:53 on the clock in the first half Smith hit a 3-pointer to give his team a 7-5 lead. It was the start of a 19-6 run that put the Hatters up by 12 points at the mid-point of the half. After another JU field goal freshman Shawn Bowen (Montreal, Quebec) scored an easy layup and Stetson was off on another run stretching its lead to as much as 21 points when Kris Thomas hit a long ball at 2:06, and again with a Smith jumper at 1:17. The Hatters carried a 19-point lead into the half.
In the second half Jacksonville was able to work the lead down to 10 points when Travis Cohn completed a three-point play with a free throw, yet, that was as close as the Dolphins would get coming down the stretch. The Hatters had something to prove and would not be denied.
The final Stetson points on the night came on a pair of free throws by senior forward J.J. Hirst (Okeechobbe, Fla.). Tonight was senior night in the Edmunds Center and Hirst was playing in the final home game of his four-year career in DeLand. When he stepped on to the floor as a member of tonight’s starting lineup Hirst was playing in the 114th game of his career placing him 5th on Stetson’s all-time games played list. If the Hatters can make the finals of the A-Sun tournament he can tie Gabe McMillen for #1 all-time with 117 games played. A record McMillen set last year.
Tonight’s victory was the 70th A-Sun Conference win for head coach Derek Waugh. Waugh secured his 90th overall win last week in a win over Florida Gulf Coast.
In addition to Smith, Garfield Blair (Orlando, Fla.), Eric Diaz (Miami, Fla.) and Tim Lang (Victoria, Australia) all chipped in with double-figure scoring at 15, 13 and 13 points respectively. Lang was on fire from long range hitting a career-high with three field goals from beyond the arc.
Perhaps the biggest story of the night was the Stetson bench. The Hatters once again proved that they may have the deepest bench in the A-Sun finishing with a 41-14 advantage in scoring by its reserves. As a team Stetson shot 52.8% from the field (28-for-53) and 50.0% (11-for-22) from 3-point range.
With the win Stetson finished the regular season with a 16-15 overall record, 11-5 in conference play. Jacksonville dropped to 16-12 overall and 12-4 in the league. Next week the Hatters will travel to Nashville to play in the A-Sun Tournament. The #3 Hatters will open up against #6 Gardner-Webb on Thursday at 2:15 p.m. Hatter fans can catch all the action by going to www.gohatters.com and tuning into Hatter Vision. Murray Miller and Harry Arnold will be on site to provide the audio play-by-play. Fans can also see the action through a Hatter Vision link with A-Sun TV.
For all the pairings and information on the tournament go to the following link: http://atlanticsun.org/mbasketball/championship/