Hatters Fall To FGCU, 77-70, in ASUN Title Game
As they have done so many times in the past, the Stetson Hatters and FGCU Eagles squared off in a titanic struggle for the ASUN Tournament Championship and berth in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday afternoon at the Edmunds Center.
After a back-and-forth battle throughout, it was the Eagles, riding the play off the bench from junior China Dow, who prevailed. FGCU’s 77-70 victory not only snapped the Hatters’ 15-game win streak, but may have prevented Stetson from returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2013.
FGCU (26-8) will receive the ASUN’s automatic bid while the Hatters (26-6) must wait to see if there is a possible at-large bid in their future. Stetson is guaranteed a spot in the WNIT as a result of winning the ASUN regular season title.
“I thought overall we were in control for most of the game,” Stetson head coach Lynn Bria said. “I just think they made some plays. I think China Dow made some plays for them. She hit a couple of really hard shots. I think that made a big difference in the game, especially when they went up by three or five in the fourth quarter.”
Dow proved to be the difference in the game, scoring 31 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. FGCU dominated the defensive boards, preventing the Hatters from gaining a single offensive rebound until the final five seconds of the game. Overall, FGCU led 41-28 on the glass and 15-2 in second chance points.
“I am really disappointed in our rebounding,” Bria said. “We didn’t rebound the ball. I thought (FGCU) rebounded really hard.”
Like the heavyweight title fight it was billed to be, both teams came out throwing haymakers, and neither appeared ready to give an inch. Despite intense pressure on the ball up and down the floor, both teams found success on the offensive end. The result after the opening 10 minutes of play was a game tied at 20.
Stetson senior Brianti Saunders got the Hatters out to a quick start, scoring 13 of her 23 points in the opening period. She hit all four of her field goal attempts in the opening quarter, three of which came from three-point range, and also connected on both of her free throw attempts.
The teams continued to stand toe-to-toe through the second quarter, each answering every opposing thrust with a parry. It was junior Brittney Chambers who landed the biggest blows for Hatters in the quarter, hitting a pair of three-pointers in the final 96 seconds of the half to lift Stetson to a 38-34 lead.
For the half, Stetson hit a blistering eight-of-10 from three-point range, but it was the Hatters’ 10 turnovers that allowed FGCU to stay within striking distance. The Eagles scored 11 points off those Stetson turnovers, and continued to work the inside against the Hatters, scoring 22 points in the paint.
The game settled into a little less frenetic pace in the third quarter, with the Hatters leading throughout. Dow continued to provide the spark for her team. After scoring 12 points in the first half, Dow had nine of FGCU’s 17 third quarter points. She poured in another 12 points in the final quarter.
As the game moved into its final period, it was Sauders who delivered the first big punch with a three-pointer. Jordin Alexander answered with a short jumper but the Hatters went right back to the well, finding Sarah Sagerer open in the corner for a three and a seven-point lead.
Sagerer, who was quiet in the first half, followed up on the next two FGCU possessions with a blocked shot and a steal.
Senior Breana Bey gave Stetson its’ largest lead of the game, 62-53, with 6:30 to play on a short jumper, but the Eagles answered with baskets on three straight possessions to get back to within three points, 62-59. A pair of free throws by Dow closed the Stetson lead to 62-61 and then, after she tied up Sagerer for a jump ball, she hit a three-pointer to give the Eagles their first lead since the 3:55 mark of the second quarter.
The game went back-and-forth over the next two minutes, with the Hatters scoring at one end to tie the game, and FGCU answering at the other to regain the lead. That continued until Dow drained a three-pointer from the top of the key with 1:34 to play, giving the Eagles a 71-65 advantage.
After DeAsia Beal hit a pair of free throws for Stetson, Dow drove right down the lane for a layup to pull ahead by six. The Eagles sealed the victory over the final minute by hitting all four of their free throw attempts.
Saunders hit a layup at the final buzzer to provide for the final margin. She led the Hatters with 23 points, giving her 1,964 points in her career. Chambers finished with 15 points before fouling out with 6:21 to play while Bey finished with 12. Saunders and Chambers were each selected to the all-tournament team.
Stetson will learn its postseason fate Monday night.
ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM: Dow led three FGCU players on the All-Tournament team, earning MVP honors. She was joined by Alexander and freshman guard Tytionia Adderly. Both Chambers and Saunders were also named to the All-Tournament team along with senior Sherranda Reddick from Jacksonville and Carlotta Gianolla from Kennesaw State.
About Stetson University Athletics: Stetson University’s Athletics Program has a vision of developing a culture of champions athletically, academically and within the community. This vision is accomplished through a mission of recruiting and developing student-athletes, coaches and staff, creating a culture of champions, within and outside of competition. The department operates with five core values: Championship Culture, Integrity, Excellence, Pride/Tradition and Leadership. To learn more about the Vision, Mission and Core Values for Stetson Athletics, visit GoHatters.com and click on Mission Statement under the Inside Athletics tab.