NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The Stetson men's basketball team (11-14, 8-6) clinched a berth into the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament for the first time since 2008-09, defeating Lipscomb (9-15, 4-9) 76-66 on Thursday night. Senior Adam Pegg led the Hatters with 23 points and 12 rebounds for his fourth double-double of the season.
"It's a great step," Stetson head coach Casey Alexander said after the game. "There are a lot of steps we still have to climb, but I'm proud of these guys for accomplishing that. The goal from this point forward is to keep climbing, put ourselves in the best seed we can get, and give ourselves the best chance to win."
The first half was similar to the past few games for Stetson. The Hatters were unable to take care of the ball, turning it over 13 times in the first 20 minutes, and when Stetson was able to get a shot off, the team wasn't efficient in doing so. The Hatters shot just 10-of-28 (35.7%) from the floor in the first frame.
After an extremely slow start, Stetson used a 7-0 run to tie the game at 14-14 with 9:36 to play. A driving layin by senior Joel Naburgs, a three by senior Liam McInerney, and a short two by junior Willie Green got Stetson back into the game.
Shortly thereafter Lipscomb rattled off 13 straight points to take a 29-18 advantage with 3:13 remaining in the period. The Hatters were able to cut into the deficit with a post layup by Pegg and a triple by junior Chris Perez, but the Bisons went into the break with a 34-26 advantage.
"The first 20 minutes were practically unacceptable," Alexander said. "It's mind boggling that we can show up at this stage in the season, with so much to play for, and not have an edge about [us]...just really not be excited about being out there. When that happens, and you're not playing well to begin with, the problem just compounds itself."
The second half was a different story from the first whistle. Green scored the first basket of the frame, capitalizing on a pair of offensive rebounds, and the Hatters were off and running from there. Stetson scored the first nine points of the half, as a pair of jumpers by Pegg and a three by Perez gave the Hatters a 35-34 lead, their first since midway through the first half.
Stetson continued to pour it in offensively, while getting defensive stop after defensive stop, eventually outscoring the Bisons 22-4 through the first 10:10 of the half. Thanks to nine points by Pegg within the first four minutes of the frame alone, the Hatters took a 48-38 lead midway through the second period.
"One helps the other," Alexander said of the Hatters' quality play on the court and their energy on the sidelines. "The first possession [of the half] Willie has two offensive rebounds, sticks one back in, and that energizes the guys on the bench. It runs its way all the way through the team in the same way that the negatives did in the first half."
Lipscomb fought back, closing its deficit to just four points on a layup by Deonte Alexander that made it 60-56 with 4:19 to play. A dunk off of an inbounds play from Green quickly countered, as the two teams traded baskets for a couple minutes.
Free throws by junior Hunter Miller, Naburgs, and junior Aaron Graham, as well as another bucket by Pegg allowed the Hatters to once again balloon their lead back up to 11 points, at 70-59, with 37 second to play. It was a 6-0 run that included four consecutive defensive stops for Stetson, and the Hatters held on for the 76-66 victory.
The Hatters turned the ball over only five times in the second half, and shot 15-of-29 (51.7%) from the floor. Stetson's 27 free throw attempts were the third most for the Hatters on the year, as were the 19 makes from the charity stripe.
Pegg's 23 points and 12 rebounds led the Hatters, marking his fourth double-double of the season, and the 20th straight game in double figures. Perez added 17 points, while Graham chipped in with 11 on 6-of-7 from the line. Green finished with eight points and 11 rebounds, his fifth game this season in double figures on the glass.
Lipscomb was led by Alexander's 21 points, while Stephen Hurt chipped in with 12 points and five rebounds. J.J. Butler recorded a game high seven assists in the defeat.
Stetson will next travel up to Highland Heights to play at Northern Kentucky on Saturday, Feb. 16. The Hatters and the Norse are scheduled to tip off at 7:00 p.m. on ASun.TV and HatterVision.