Macon, Ga. – Eric Diaz (Miami, Fla.) and Garfield Blair (Orlando, Fla.) each scored 27 points, yet it wasn’t quite enough as Stetson (8-9, 5-4) dropped a 101-98 overtime battle Sunday afternoon to Mercer (10-8, 4-3) in Macon. It was a career-high effort for Diaz and a season-high for Blair.
After trailing the entire game the Hatters mounted a late comeback which culminated in a 3-pointer by Diaz with 8 seconds remaining in the game and tying the score at 83-83. When Mercer in bounded the ball to set up a final shot, Kris Thomas (Lithonia, Ga.) stole the ball and launched a desperation shot that just missed its mark at the buzzer and the game went into overtime.
Diaz, a senior, played the best game of his career. He was absolutely on fire all day for the visitors. He shot 10-for 14 from the field and 6-of-9 from 3-point range. He hit career highs in scoring, field goals, field goal attempts, 3-pointers and 3-point attempts.
“That was the best I have ever seen Eric play,” said head coach Derek Waugh. “Not only on the offensive end, but defensively as well.”
Early in overtime the Hatters held a one-point lead when Blair hit a layup but unfortunately it was their only lead. Mercer outscored Stetson 18-15 in the final period to register the win.
After getting behind by 12 points at the half, and still trailing by that number with 11:58 to play, Stetson charged back to make it a game. Blair sunk a pair of free throws at 2:39 to get Stetson to within three, but James Florence followed with a layup and a free throw to extend the lead back to six with just over a minute to play. Then a layup by Oliver, a jumper by Blair and another Florence score set up Diaz for his dramatic shot.
“This was not a tough loss. It was a hard loss and a hard luck loss,” said Waugh. “Maybe this will set us up for one of these to go our way later on in the season.”
In addition to Diaz and Blair, A.J. Smith scored 20 points and equaled his season-high. He was a perfect 6-for-6 from the line. As a team Stetson shot 48% (36-75) from the field, and 42% from downtown (14-33). The Hatters committed just 12 turnovers in the game compared to 18 for the Bears. Mercer outrebounded Stetson 41-34.
After cutting the lead to six Stetson gave up six consecutive points in the final minute including a buzzer-beater and went into the locker room down by a dozen at 43-31. Mercer dominated the boards in the first half by a 24-12 margin. The Bears picked up as many offensive rebounds as the Hatter had totaled. Henry was red hot scoring 15 points and pulling down six rebounds.
The Hatters will now return to the Edmunds Center to play four consecutive home games. Friday night at 7:00 p.m. they will take on Jacksonville, followed by a Sunday evening tilt versus North Florida at 5:00 p.m. The voices of Stetson men’s basketball Murray Miller and Harry Arnold will broadcast the action; the play-by-play and analysis can be heard on Hatter Vision at www.gohatters.com, the official online home of Stetson Athletics. The game’s video feed will also be available through A-Sun TV and on Hatter Vision.