The East Tennessee State basketball team flipped the script Thursday night but couldn’t produce a winning finish.
Stetson tossed in 11 3-pointers and held off a frantic rally at the end to win 72-70 in the Dome.
The Bucs hit 70 points for the first time all season against Division I competition — they had gotten to 60 only three times previously. They also had six more field goals and shot 52 percent from the field.
It still wasn’t enough to offset the perimeter shooting by the Hatters, who made half of their 3-point attempts and held a 13-4 advantage at the foul line.
“This was a weird game for us,” said ETSU coach Murry Bartow. “We’ve been defending really well. This game we shoot 52 percent and score 70 points, then give up 72.”
The loss dropped the Bucs to 3-13 overall and 1-2 in the Atlantic Sun Conference. They’ll host front-running Florida Gulf Coast on Saturday.
The Eagles (4-1) won at South Carolina Upstate in overtime Thursday night to take over the top spot.
Meanwhile, Stetson improved to 6-10, 3-2 and looks a lot more polished in coach Casey Alexander’s second season as head coach.
The longtime Belmont assistant has his team playing a little bit like the Bruins, who have departed the conference after winning five of the last seven championships. At least, on the offensive end.
The Hatters buried two 3-pointers in the first minute of the game and went on to make eight in the half. They led 40-32 at the break after shooting 56 percent from the field.
“We average the most 3-pointers in the conference, and it’s no accident,” said junior guard Aaron Graham, who had three baskets from long range and finished with 13 points.
Stetson also has a presence in the paint with 6-9, 260-pound senior Adam Pegg. An all-conference pick a year ago, Pegg finished with 17 points on 8-of-10 shooting.
Junior guard Chris Perez matched him with 17, including three 3-pointers.
The offensive package had a far different look than the Stetson teams of former coach Derek Waugh.
“Offensively they have a lot more pieces,” said Bartow. “They’re big inside with Pegg, and Perez is as touh as anybody in the league. He’s a tough hombre, like Mike Smith. And they have the 3-point shooters.
“Still, I thought we could guard them.”
The Bucs fell behind 50-39 five minutes into the second half, and they were down by 13 with seven minutes left. But they made a spirited run behind Lester Wilson and some pressure defense.
Wilson, who led all scorers with 21 points, had five during a 10-0 burst. Rashawn Rembert capped it with a driving layup that made the score 67-64 with 2:39 left.
The Hatters had gone scoreless for over six minutes, and suddenly Jarvis Jones found himself lining up a 3-pointer to tie. He couldn’t connect, however, and Pegg laid in his final basket on the other end to make it a five-point game with 1:13 left.
The Bucs couldn’t get back within one possession again. Wilson made it close with a harmless dunk at the horn.
“We showed a lot of fight,” said Hunter Harris, ETSU’s junior forward, “and I liked the press at the end. We showed some toughness.”
Harris, always active around the basket, scored a season-high 16 points on 8-for-12 shooting. He also had seven rebounds, three assists and two blocked shots.
Jones made 8 of his 18 shots to finish with 19 points. Once again, he was forced to play the point most of the night because of Petey McClain’s ongoing ankle problems.
McClain started but played only 13 minutes.
“It’s pretty difficult, but these are hard times right now,” said Jones. “You do what you have to do to get by.”
The Bucs had just snapped a nine-game losing streak with a 49-44 win at Northern Kentucky.