Led by 20 points and six rebounds from junior Chris Perez, the Stetson men's basketball team (2-1) defeated Southeastern (7-2) by a score of 81-59 on Monday night at the Edmunds Center.
Beginning uncharacteristically slow on offense, neither team had scored by the time the first media timeout rolled around at the 15:59 mark in the first half. In fact, the Fire gained the advantage first, scoring with 15:41 to play and again a minute and a half later, before the Hatters ever got on the board.
"We're a good offensive team so I kind of assumed it would come sooner rather than later, but yeah you're concerned when you don't get off to a good start," Stetson head coach Casey Alexander said following the game.
Junior Aaron Graham came off the bench and tallied the Hatters' first five points of the contest, knocking down a three just over six and a half minutes into play, and a runner in the lane less than a minute later to cut the Southeastern lead to 6-5 nearly midway through the period.
A three-pointer from senior Joel Naburgs gave Stetson its first lead of the game, at 8-6, but after a triple by the Fire's Brandon Moore, it was a layup by senior Adam Pegg that put the Haters on top 10-9, a lead the team did not relinquish the rest of the way.
A pair of blocks within 20 seconds of each other by freshman Leke Solanke seemed to energize the Hatters as a 12-0 run gave Stetson a 20-9 lead with just 6:29 to play in the half. Senior Liam McInerney capped the stretch with a three on an assist from Naburgs.
After a two-pointer by SEU's timothy Jickell stopped the run, Stetson rattled off 12-2 run over the final 5:08 of the half to take a 32-13 lead at the break. A commanding block by junior Willie Green, which led to a break that ended with a long range bounce pass from sophomore Dennis Diaz to a streaking Perez, highlighted the stretch. Perez finished, got fouled, and knocked down the free throw for his first of two conventional three-point plays on the night.
A backdoor layup by Naburgs on an assist from freshman Logan Irwin opened the second half, but Southeastern quickly countered with an 8-2 run that cut Stetson's lead to 36-21 with 17:51 to play in the period.
"As a coach, you just want it to be more consistent, obviously," Alexander said of both teams making runs. "It's not going to be perfect. There are going to be runs in every game. That's just part of the game, but you want to limit those as best you can."
It was a Perez three-pointer that ended the Fire momentum, and after a steal by Graham, a nice move in the post by Pegg put the Stetson lead back up to 20 points at 41-21.
It was just over eight minutes later that Perez was at it again, giving the Hatters their largest lead of the game, a 62-36 advantage with 8:50 to play. The junior guard converted a traditional three-point play, and then a triple from beyond the arc within 20 seconds of each other, which allowed Stetson to cruise to the buzzer.
"I'm proud of Chris," Alexander said. "It was great to see him come through at a time when we really needed somebody to come through. You can always count on Chris playing hard. Chris wants to be good, and he's a guy you can depend on, so I'm glad to see that he carried us."
A game that was physical, and a bit out of control at times, featured a number of hard fouls and a couple of moments of retaliation. One of those came at the 11:32 mark in the second half when Pegg retaliated on a hard foul on one end of the floor with one of his own, which was called flagrant. Pegg was forced to leave the game, finishing the night with 14 points, four rebounds, and two blocks.
"You can't be a good team if you don't believe more in who you are, and you let other things worry you like that," Alexander said after the game. "I have to get that message across better [to our team]."
An 8-0 run by the Fire cut the Stetson lead to just 18 points, at 73-55, with just 2:15 to play, but four points each down the stretch by Graham and Naburgs gave the Hatters' the 81-59 victory.
It marked the first back-to-back wins for Stetson since victories over Jacksonville and North Florida in January of last season. Moreover, Monday night's win gave the Hatters' back-to-back 20+ point triumphs for the first time since November of the 2000-01 season.
Perez led the way with 20 points, six rebounds, two assists, and two steals. Pegg finished with 14 points and four boards, while Graham and Naburgs chipped in with 13 each. McInerney added six rebounds, Naburgs led the Hatters' with four assists, and Pegg, Solanke, and Green all recorded two blocks.
Stetson shot 44.6 percent from the floor, including 7-of-22 from beyond the arc (31.8%). The Hatters' held the Fire to 38.2 percent shooting and just 6-of-23 from three-point range (26.1%). Stetson out-rebounded Southeastern 46-32, and recorded a positive assist-to-turnover ratio for the third straight game (19-to-13).
The Hatters will take a week off to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday, and then return to action on Monday, Nov. 26 to host South Florida in the conclusion of this three-game homestand. Stetson and USF are scheduled to tip off at 7:00 p.m. at the Edmunds Center, with coverage on HatterVision, ASun.TV, as well as WSBB 1230 AM and 1490 AM.
Coach Alexander Postgame Interview