The Stetson men's basketball team (8-10, 5-2) used a second
half surge to defeat Northern Kentucky (4-10, 2-4) in its first ever meeting
with the Norse on Thursday night. The 71-59
victory was the Hatters' fourth straight and moved Stetson into sole possession
of first place in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
The four wins in a row - Jacksonville, ETSU, USC Upstate,
and now Northern Kentucky - marks the longest win-streak for Stetson since the
2007-08 season. That campaign also
marked the last time the Hatters got out to a 5-2 start in A-Sun play. After Florida Gulf Coast's overtime loss to
Lipscomb on Thursday, and Jacksonville sitting idle, Stetson is alone in first
place in the league standings and has won six of its last nine contests dating
back to Chris Perez's buzzer beater at Florida Atlantic on Dec. 6.
"It's no grand scheme, or real significant changes, I think
it's just doing a lot of things a little bit better," Stetson head coach Casey
Alexander said of the team's recent success.
"When you do that, you put yourself in position to win, and we've been
fortunate enough to win some close games. When you win close games confidence
builds, and you just kind of try to ride the momentum, and right now that's
The victory over the Norse at the Edmunds Center on Thursday
didn't come easily. In fact, the Hatters
were down by four points at halftime, and as many as eight points with 2:30 to
play in the first period.
After a 7-0 run midway through the first half put Stetson up
16-12 with 9:43 remaining, NKU outscored the Hatters 17-5 over the next seven
minutes to extend its lead to 29-21 on a tip-in by Anthony Monaco. Back-to-back three-pointers by junior Aaron
Graham and senior Joel Naburgs cut the deficit to two points, but a layup by
the Norse's Chad Jackson made it 31-27 in favor of NKU at the break.
"I thought we were a little bit too timid on both ends,"
Alexander said of Stetson's play in the first half. "Not in a fearful way. They guarded us a
little bit differently, and so we didn't really play with a lot of purpose on
offense, and then defensively because they spread you out and they make you
stand around a lot, we just weren't really aggressive."
Things changed in the second half after a running hook by
John Staley put NKU up by six points to open the frame. A three-pointer by junior Hunter Miller
ignited a 9-0 run that gave Stetson its first lead since 16-15 at the 9:16 mark
in the first half.
A fading jumper by Naburgs, and two straight baskets from
junior Chris Perez, put Stetson up 36-33 with 17:05 remaining in the second
half. The Hatter offensive didn't end
there, although it was the improved defense that led to much of the team's
Stetson forced four NKU turnovers in the first 5:25 of the
second half, which turned into nine Hatter points and extended their run to
14-2 and gave them a 41-35 lead with 14:35 remaining in the game.
"It helps give you a little life," Alexander said of the points
off of turnovers. "When you're having to
work so hard for baskets, and all of the sudden you get an easy one or two, it
just kind of picks you up naturally. The
best part of that is the 10 steals. That's
like a world record for our team."
The 10 steals didn't set any kind of world record, but they
did tie a season-best for the Hatters, who also scored 26 points off of
turnovers in the contest.
Stetson led by as many as 15 points when an 18-7 stretch
late in the second half put the Hatters up 65-50 on a steal and layup by Miller
with 1:48 to play. The Norse got as
close as eight points before Stetson went on to the 71-59 victory.
"I don't think anybody who watched that would say that it
was a thing of beauty, but you see everything throughout the course of a season
so whether it's pretty or not, it's better to be on this end of it," Alexander
said. "I'm glad we found a way to settle down a little bit in the second half,
play better, and end up winning without a lot of concern down the stretch."
Naburgs and Perez both finished with 17 points to lead the
Hatters. The former tied a career best with
a game high eight assists. Senior Adam
Pegg and Graham added 13 points each in the victory. For Pegg it marked the 13th
straight game in double figures.
NKU was led by Jackson with 15 points and eight
rebounds. Faulkner added 12 points and
five assists in the defeat.
Stetson will next host Lipscomb on Saturday, Jan. 19 at 3:15
p.m. on ESPN3. The Bisons defeated FGCU
in overtime on Thursday night for their second conference win of the
season. The game will be featured on
ESPN3 and WatchESPN, as well as WSBB 1230 AM, 1490 AM, and www.MyAM1230.com.
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