Saturday, March 9, 2013
Resurgent Stetson Claims Second Title in Three Years
By DANIEL SHIRLEY
Stetson looked on last year as Florida Gulf Coast celebrated its 2012 General Shale A-Sun Basketball Championship.
The Hatters wanted to make sure they didn’t experience that again.
They accomplished that and won their second A-Sun tournament title in three years, a 70-64 defeat of FGCU on Saturday at Mercer’s Hawkins Arena.
The win clinches the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament and is a program-best 24th this season for the Hatters.
“We knew what it feels like last year to sit there and be the second-place team, and we didn’t want to feel like that again,” Stetson head coach Lynn Bria said. “I felt like we stuck together, and we didn’t get frustrated. We felt like they were the ones who got frustrated.
“This is the one that counts. They all count, but this is the one you grow up working for, and this is the one you play for because we’re going to the NCAA tournament.”
Florida Gulf Coast had won 41 straight games against conference competition, but the Hatters halted that streak with a strong second half.
The Eagles drop to 27-6 and will wait to see if they receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
“It’s extra special because it’s special, and we’re going to the NCAA tournament,” Bria said. “I don’t care who we beat. They’re just another team in our conference, and they were in our way.”
The Hatters trailed by 13, 40-27, at the half and had been beaten by 17 and 19 points by FGCU during the regular season. There was no quit in the Hatters, who methodically cut into the Eagles’ lead.
Sasha Sims led the charge with 15 points on 6-of-9 shooting and nine rebounds, while Victoria McGowan and Cherisse Burris each had 14 points. Shanasa Sanders added 12 points and seven rebounds.
Sims and McGowan were named to the all-tournament team.
“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” McGowan said. “We knew we had to come out and win. We knew no one believed in us, but we believed in ourselves.”
FGCU’s Joyce Iamstrong was named the tournament MVP after scoring 31 points in the championship game. She had 23 and 22 points in the first two rounds. She was especially strong in the first half with 19 points and hit five 3-pointers in the first 20 minutes.
But the Hatters reversed the momentum after the first half, outscoring the Eagles 43-24 in the second half.
After shooting just 9-of-26 in the first half, the Hatters connected on 14-of-26 (53.8 percent) in the second. They were only 4-of-11 from 3-point range in the game but made up for that at the free-throw line, hitting 20-of-25 attempts.
“This is a special group,” Bria said. “I hope I get to experience a group like this again but you never know. It will be hard to top them.”