The 2016 Atlantic Sun tournament was in an odd predicament, as only 7 of their 8 teams were eligible for post-season play. One team was deemed ineligible due to low APR scores, and that was the Stetson Hatters.
However, that left the conference with only 7 teams for the conference tournament. So, the Hatters played in the conference tournament to make it an even-numbered field.
Despite not being able to play in the NCAA Tournament, that didn’t stop the Hatters from playing some inspired basketball. First, they upset the NJIT Highlanders, and then they downed the Lipscomb Bisons to secure their spot in the conference championship.
Their opponent? The Florida Gulf Coast Eagles.
Stetson took down the Eagles in their regular season finale, and were looking to land the conference tournament championship. On the flip side, the Eagles were looking for a bit of retribution as they were looking to return to the Big Dance.
Due to the Atlantic Sun’s predicament with the Hatters, there were two scenarios that could play out. If Stetson won, then the top-seed in the conference would make the NCAA Tournament, which would be the North Florida Ospreys. If the Eagles won, then they would represent the conference in the tournament.
The conference tournament finale was an instant classic, and what better way to decide the fate of two teams than with overtime. It came down to the wire, and a big block from Zach Johnson sealed the deal for the Eagles.
Florida Gulf Coast, aka Dunk City, is returning to the NCAA Tournament after their 80-78 win over the Stetson Hatters.
Stetson had yet another upset on their mind, and were in control for much of the game. Down the stretch in the second half, the Hatters looked to be well on their way to the conference title.
With 6:26 to play in the game, Angel Rivera hit a pair of free throws to put the Hatters ahead by 5. They held a lead for most of the second half, but the Eagles came storming back to put the Hatters on the ropes.
A 10-0 run erased the Hatters’ lead, and staked themselves to a 5-point lead with 3:32 to play. Johnson hit a pair of free throws to cap off the run.
It was Stetson’s turn to fight back, and that they did. A pair of threes from Grant Lozoya and Leo Goodman brought Stetson back to within a point with under 2 minutes on the clock. Timely free throw shooting from both teams down the stretch sent the game into overtime tied at 69.
Stetson drew first blood in the extra frame, as Divine Myles hit a pair of free throws to give the Hatters a 71-69 advantage. Just 10 seconds later, Antravious Simmons responded for the Eagles to the the game once more.
With 22 seconds to play, Johnson hit a layup to push the lead to 3, but Myles responded with a layup to get Stetson within 1.
Johnson hit one of two free throws with 10 seconds to play, giving Stetson a chance to send the game to double overtime or come away with the win. Myles drove the lane for a layup, but was met by Johnson who came up with a game-saving block for the Eagles.
Thanks to the block, the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles survived the Stetson Hatters and punched their ticket to the NCAA Tournament with an 80-78 victory in overtime.
For the Stetson Hatters, their young stars led the way against the Eagles. Freshman Derick Newton scored a game-high 22 points to go along with 5 rebounds in the loss. In total, five Hatters scored in double-figures on the night.
Divine Myles and Grant Lozoya each added 11 points, while Luke Doyle and Angel Rivera chipped in with 10 points apiece.
Four different players scored in double figures to lead the Eagles back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the name ‘Dunk City’ came to the forefront. Antravious Simmons scored a team-high 21 points, while Zach Johnson added 19 points of his own in the win.
Marc Eddy Norelia recorded 16 points and 9 rebounds of his own, while both Julian DeBose and Filip Cvjeticanin were held off the scoreboard.
The upset-minded Stetson Hatters (12-22, 4-10) fell just short in their quest for the Atlantic Sun Championship, but fans have to like the outlook for the future. With a ton of young talent on the roster, the Hatters will be a force in the conference over the next few years.
With the win, the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles (20-13, 8-6) are returning to the NCAA Tournament. They will be looking to recreate the magic they had back in 2013, when they advanced to the Sweet 16 as a 15-seed.