The Stetson men's basketball team (2-6) dropped its final home contest before a five-game road trip on Sunday afternoon, falling to Florida International (3-3) by a score of 82-79. Senior Adam Pegg recorded his first double-double of the season, while junior Hunter Miller netted a career high 12 points in the loss.
"This is two games in a row that our guys have really played with a lot of energy, and effort, and togetherness, and all the things you have to have to be a good team...with nothing to show for it," Stetson head coach Casey Alexander said after the game.
"The 'nothing to show for it' is not because we're not good enough," Alexander continued. "It's because we continue to make way too many mistakes. Sometimes energy and effort carry you through when you don't play well, but most of the time you fool yourself into thinking that it will. These last two games are perfect examples [of that]. We just made too many mistakes, on both ends of the floor, but especially defensively."
The Hatters got out to a quick 6-1 lead through 2:40 after a pair of drives by junior Chris Perez and a layup by Pegg. FIU countered with a 10-3 run, capped by a three-pointer from Jerome Frink, giving the Panthers their first lead of the game, at 11-9 with 14:27 to play in the first.
Seven straight points by FIU midway through the period extended the Hatter deficit to five points, at 21-16, but Miller knocked down a trey for his first points of the game to stop the bleeding.
After the Panthers once again built their lead to six points, at 29-23 on a three-pointer from Juan Ferrales, it was a Miller layup off of a perfect back door pass from Perez, and then a triple from Perez that helped get Stetson back in the game, at 29-28 with 4:20 remaining in the half.
A fast break dunk by Tola Akomolafe was the final score of the period, giving FIU a 36-31 lead at the break. The Panthers used their defensive pressure to force Stetson into 10 first half turnovers, which led to 15 of the Panthers' 36 points at the intermission.
An 8-2 Stetson run, beginning just over four minutes into the second half when junior Willie Green converted on a traditional three-point play with a dunk on the break and a free throw, cut the Hatter deficit down to just two points, at 47-45 with 14:06 to play.
A quick-countering three by Malik Smith, one of six on the day for the guard, halted the Hatter run. Stetson soon made another push, though, recording a 12-3 run that gave the Hatters a 59-55 lead, the team's first since 16-15 at the 10:23 mark in the first half.
The stretch began once again with a Green dunk, this time off of an assist from Perez, but four straight points from Pegg, a triple by senior Joel Naburgs, and run-capping conventional three-point play from junior Aaron Graham also contributed to the Stetson effort.
It was once again an FIU three that shifted the momentum. Gaby Belardo knocked one down from beyond the arc, and just 20 seconds later finished a layup on the break to give the lead back to the Panthers, at 60-59 with 9:10 to play.
The two teams traded baskets for much of the second half, but after Stetson tied the game at 69-69 on a pair of free throws by Perez, FIU used a three-point play from Tymell Murphy to take their final lead of the game and go on to the 82-79 victory.
Stetson dropped its fifth straight game despite outscoring FIU 46-20 in the paint, and recording at least 20 assists for the third time this season. The Panthers, however, scored 24 points off of Stetson's 16 turnovers, and outscored the Hatters 40-9 off the bench.
Perez led Stetson with a season high 22 points, just two shy of his career high. Pegg added 14 points and 12 rebounds, marking the center's first double-double of the season, and the third of his two-year career with the Hatters.
Green and Miller chipped in with 12 points each. Miller, whose 12 were a career high for the point guard, also dished out a team-high five assists. Naburgs finished with 10 points and four assists on the night, giving Stetson five players in double figures for the first time this season.
"I'm proud of Hunter," Alexander said. "It's great to see a guy, when he gets his opportunity to play more and contribute more, be ready, step in, and deliver. Especially when you know it's a guy who is completely a team first guy. He's always going to do whatever he can to help the team win. He gave us a great lift tonight with his effort and with his performance."
Smith led the Panthers with 29 points on six threes, and was 9-of-11 from the free throw line. Akomolafe led FIU with nine rebounds, while Murphy finished with 11 points and a game high nine assists.
Stetson will now begin a five-game road trip that begins at Richmond on Saturday, Dec. 15. That game can be heard live on WSBB 1230 AM in New Smyrna, 1490 AM in DeLand, and online at www.MyAM1230.com.