The Hatters and Bison went toe-to-toe last month in Nashville before Lipscomb’s Demarius Smith landed the final blow with a three-pointer at the end of overtime to give the Bison a 104-103 victory. Stetson will be looking to avenge that loss and improve its position in the race for the Atlantic Sun Tournament when the teams meet in a game scheduled for 3:15 p.m. on Saturday.
Stetson fell to 8-16 on the year with two tough road losses in Jacksonville last weekend. The Hatters are 5-8 in league play, two games in front of the Dolphins who appear to be playing their best basketball of the season.
Both teams have five games left to either earn, or lose, that final A-Sun Tournament berth.
“The games don’t get any easier,” Stetson coach Casey Alexander said. “We have put ourselves in a position where our backs are against the wall. The conference tournament is in more doubt than it seemed to be just a short time ago. We need to be 100 percent ready to go.
“No one knows how things are going to shake out. We have to assume that we have a lot of work left to do and do the best that we can to get ready to play each game to give ourselves a chance to win each game. At the end we’ll see how it all shakes out.
The final weekend of the year will also feature a matchup with Belmont on Monday. The Bruins go into the weekend just a half game behind Mercer in the league race, and are chasing what would be their final A-Sun title. Even though it would be easy to do so, Alexander said he and the Hatters are squarely focused on Lipscomb.
“This first one is the only one you can be worried about at all,” Alexander said. “It is a chance for us to right the ship a little bit and get back to where we were the week before when we were playing harder and thought we were going to do more things than we did.”
There will be some notable differences in the match-up with Lipscomb this time. The Bison have gone into a scoring funk of late, having been held to less than 60 points in three of their last four games. That was all before senior guard Jordan Burgeson, the second leading scorer in the A-Sun, was dismissed from the team on Friday.
“You look at it from an Xs and Os standpoint last time, but at this point it is more about where we are right now and where they are right now. It is an altogether new game. We have prepared the best we can, have come up with the best game plan that we can. They key is to go out and execute and be ready to go.”
While the Bison have struggled offensively of late, the Hatters have struggled defensively for much of the season. In addition to the 104 points Lipscomb scored in the first meeting, Stetson has surrendered 99 points to North Florida, 96 to Florida and 92 to Florida Gulf Coast this year. Opponents are averaging 76.2 points per game against the Hatters.
“We haven’t been able to stop people, whether they have been scoring against others or not,” Alexander said. “Jacksonville scored the ball well against us and right before that North Florida scored 99. We don’t have any right to show up and think someone else is struggling offensively. It is up to us to play well defensively.”
What the Hatters need to get back in the win column is a return to form by junior center Adam Pegg. The Clearwater native has been Stetson’s anchor at both ends of the floor this year, but he has struggled offensively over the last five games, scoring just 9.6 points per game over that stretch.
“I am not going to place any of the blame on Adam because he has carried more than his share of the load for us throughout the year, but we need for him to be a factor inside,” Alexander said. “He has to be a producer inside because we are not as good when he is not.”
Alexander did say that he hopes all Stetson fans turn out for these last two home games of the year, not only because the games are important, but also because he feels the Hatters deserve to know that their efforts this year have been appreciated.
“I hope the locals appreciate how hard our team has played,” Alexander said. “We have tried to put a product out there that believes in what we are doing and plays together. Even though it hasn’t always been perfect, I hope they appreciate the effort of these guys and what they have done this season.”