“We didn’t win but I am very proud of these guys,” head coach Derek Waugh said. “This was probably the best we played on the road all year.”
After trailing by as many as 13 in the first half and by nine at halftime, the Hatters (11-20) took their first lead on a Gabe McMillen lay-up with 13:31 to go. Moments later a three-point play from Tim Lang put the Hatters ahead 49-45. That was all part of a 16-4 run early in the second half.
However, the Hatters top two scorers, Garfield Blair and McMillen, each picked up their 4th fouls with more than 10 minutes to play. With those two on the bench, Andrew Reed’s dunk put ETSU (23-8) back on top, 53-51 at the 8:28 mark. Reed’s big basket was part of a 12-1 run including a span during which the Hatters failed to score for more than three minutes.
Courtney Pigram’s three-pointer with 3:29 to go gave ETSU a double digit lead, 66-56. Pigram, the A-Sun Player of the Year, ended the night with 31 points to lead all scorers. Mike Smith added 14 for the Bucs.
“Our game plan was to come in and play a tempo-style basketball game,” Waugh said. “Pigram made some big plays at the end and they avoided the tightness of being a #1 seed.”
For Stetson, Collins Okafor’s 14 points gave him double figures for the first time since November 27 and was his season-high. Blair led the team with 17 points and 9 rebounds and A.J. Smith continued his inspired play off the bench. The freshman poured in 16 points, after averaging 5.0 during the regular season.
“I just rode the guys I thought were playing well,” Waugh said. “A.J. Smith had his best game for us in terms of handling ETSU’s pressure and Collins really came into his own tonight.”
McMillen, in his final game for Stetson, put in seven points and dished out five assists. He ends his career as the Hatters all-time leader in games played (117).
“I think it’s fitting Gabe has played the most games in Stetson’s history,” Waugh said. “There’s no one else you’d rather have representing you in a Stetson jersey.”