The Stetson men's basketball team (2-5) fell at home to Florida Atlantic (3-3) by a score of 88-78 on Thursday night at the Edmunds Center. Senior Adam Pegg led the Hatters with 24 points, while junior Willie Green tied a career high with 10 rebounds.
Prior to Thursday's contest, Stetson head coach Casey Alexander was aware that defending FAU's dynamic scorer Greg Gantt was going to be a challenge. After the lefty shooting guard scored 11 points in the first five minutes, and gave the Owls an early 15-5 lead, it became obvious to everyone else as well.
Knocking down 4-of-5 three-pointers on 8-of-11 from the field in the first half en route to a 21 point frame, many of which came with a Hatter defender in his face, Gantt led FAU to a 41-28 lead at the break.
"Gantt's a great shooter," Alexander said after the game. "He does it against everybody. That's all we talked about in the scouting report. He had 21 at halftime, and I'd have to watch it again to be sure, but at least 10 of them I would take any time. He just made them, and that's what great players do."
It could have been worse, though, as FAU led by as many as 16 in the first half. A steal by Jordan McCoy led to a Pablo Bertone reverse layup to make it 30-14 in favor of the Owls with 9:01 to play in the half, but Stetson fought back.
After the under eight media timeout, Green stole the ball and fed junior Chris Perez for a layup on the break to start a 9-0 run for the Hatters. Senior Joel Naburgs hit 1-of-2 from the line, Green drove to the lane for two, freshman Logan connected on a floater from the right side of the lane, and senior Liam McInerney picked up a long rebound and finished the layup on the other end to make it 30-23 with 4:54 to play in the half.
The Owls finished the period on a 10-4 run to take their 13-point lead into the break. FAU took advantage of Stetson's 12 first half turnovers, finishing the half with 12 points off of turnovers.
"I think the biggest difference in the game - on our end - were the 18 turnovers," Alexander said. "And more importantly, it was that 12 of those came in the first half. We should be a good ball handling team, but we took too many opportunities away from ourselves with turnovers."
Unlike the first half, when the Hatters had a difficult time entering the ball into Pegg in the post, and the Stetson center only went 3-of-8 when he did get the ball, the senior got on track in the second. Pegg sparked a 15-4 run that cut FAU's 18-point lead to just seven, at 58-51, with 10:51 to play in the game.
Pegg hit a three and then connected on a jump hook in the paint to score the first five points of the run. A couple of free throws from Irwin came before another Pegg three, a layup by McInerney, and a Irwin triple to get Stetson right back into the game.
That ended up being as close as the Hatters would get, though, as the two teams traded baskets for most of the way before a three-pointer by sophomore Dennis Diaz made the final score 88-78.
"I hope that means we're coming together a bit, and that we're playing against the game more so than what the outcome is," Alexander said of Stetson's ability to fight back on Thursday. "And when you do that, the result is going to be what you want it to be more often than not."
Gantt finished with a career high 34 points on 13-of-23 shooting, and 5-of-8 from beyond the arc. Stefan Moody added 17 points, while McCoy and Bertone added 12 each. The Owls finished with six blocks and 11 steals, numbers that aren't off the charts, but look much better when compared to Stetson's two blocks and three steals.
"Greg Gantt got them off to an unbelievable start making those shots," Alexander continued. "We were in a hole early, and it was tough, it was tough for 40 minutes. I'm really proud of our guys for playing hard the whole time. I wish, for their sake, that we had something to show for it, but we played a team tonight that was better than we were."
Pegg led the Hatters with 24 points on 10-of-17 from the floor. Stetson finished with four players in double figures as Irwin scored 13, Perez totaled 12, and Naburgs tacked on 11. Irwin led the team with four assists, while Green's career-best 10 rebounds were also a game high.
Stetson will stay at home for its next contest, hosting Florida International on Sunday, Dec. 9. The Hatters and the Panthers will tipoff at 2:00 p.m. at the Edmunds Center with coverage on HatterVision, ASun.TV, WSBB 1230 AM, 1490 AM, and MyAM1230.com.