Not much was going right for the Hatters on Wednesday. Lay-ups weren't falling, three-pointers were missing badly, and defensively the Hatters weren't getting the stops they needed.
Coming off three blow out wins in a row including Monday's 31-point victory at Mercer, Stetson unexpectedly found itself in a heated battle with a young Kennesaw State squad looking to knock off one of the preseason favorites in the Atlantic Sun.
While Stetson was struggling from behind the arc, hitting just one of its first 15 three-point attempts, Kennesaw State was knocking down its threes and working towards a double-digit lead. When Danielle Jackson hit the Owls' eighth triple of the game to put KSU ahead 48-36 with 10:49 to play, head coach Lynn Bria decided to call a timeout and make a change.
"We rely heavily on our man-to-man defense, but we just weren’t guarding like we normally do," Bria said. "We just had to do something else, and it worked for us."
That something else was a 1-3-1 zone defense, with the center position playing at the top of the key. With Cherisse Burris already having four fouls, Janelle Mills stepped into that spot and played it well.
"I think the zone defense made us more active defensively," Mills said. "We were able to get out on more on their shooters and really limit their vision. It really slowed the game down for them."
Mills deflected a couple of passes and helped apply ball pressure to the KSU guards. Over the next 11 Owl possessions, the Hatters forced nine turnovers and two missed shots.
"It was about the 11 minute mark when we went to it completely, and that’s when everything changed," Bria said. "They didn’t know what to do with it. It was very effective and caused them a lot of problems, got them to turn the ball over. I really don’t play it that much, but it was working, so I stayed in it."
Two of the Owl turnovers came on charges drawn by senior Ashley Dennis, including one with 5:41 to go and the Hatters down by five.
“I felt Ashley took charges that were key plays in the game that turned the momentum around," Bria said. "And Janelle was great for us at the top of our 1-3-1. Between Ashley and Janelle, they both made plays that were huge for us.”
The Hatters finished the game on a 21-4 run, including a key nine minute stretch where they held Kennesaw scoreless.
Victoria McGowan led the Hatters offensively but recognized the defensive effort that turned the game around.
“I have to give a lot of credit to my teammates,” McGowan said. “Our defense picked up after the 11 minute mark, and we locked down on ‘D’ and rebounded. I think that’s what got us the win."
While the Hatters had a rare off-night shooting the ball, Bria hopes the lessons learned will carry through the rest of the season.
"Sometimes you tell players things and they don’t really listen to you until you have a game like this," Bria said. "We’ve been harping on our rebounding and harping on our defense. When you don’t shoot the ball well, you have to play defense and you have to rebound. We need to be more consistent in those two areas. I think it’s good to have a game like this, where our shooting went away and to have some adversity. I think it makes you tougher; it makes you better as a team."