DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The cities of Daytona Beach and Deland are separated by a mere 24-mile drive down the US-92 E. Both are located in beautiful Volusia County, and are each home to a Division I university.
On Wednesday night, the two school add another chapter to their rivalry, as the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats welcome the Stetson Hatters to Daytona Beach for a rare non-conference date to kick off February.
While the rivalry doesn’t garner much attention on a national scale, it has provided fans of both programs some excitement, and the occasional stressful moment, in recent years.
Last season, the teams squared off on a pair of occasions. Stetson knocked off the Wildcats in Las Vegas as a part of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic on Thanksgiving Night, 83-70.
Then, in an instant classic inside the Edmunds Center in Deland, the Wildcats evened the season series with a 96-94 win over the Hatters.
Wednesday night’s tilt marks the 30th meeting between the two schools, and the Hatters hold a commanding 23-6 lead in the series. Both teams are looking for a big win to give themselves some positive momentum as they march towards the post-season, but only one will come out on top.
Last season, Jordan Potts completed a four-point play with 13-seconds remaining to help lead the Wildcats to the 96-94 victory. If Bethune-Cookman wants to make it two straight wins over the Hatters, they’ll have to do so without the services of Potts, who hasn’t played a game this season.
Without the services of Potts, the Wildcats have turned to others for leadership on both ends of the court this year. Senior Diamante Lewis and junior Brandon Tabb have led the way on the back end. Tabb is averaging a team-best 19.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, while Lewis is averaging 10.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per contest.
The Wildcats have four players who are averaging at least 10.6 points per game this season, showing that several players have stepped up in the absence of Potts. However, after the top four, nobody averages more than 4.6 points per contest.
Depth has been an issue so far in 2016-17, and is a big factor in the Wildcats’ 4-16 record thus far. With eight newcomers this season, depth wasn’t expected to be a strong point for the Wildcats.
Their record is a bit misleading, as they have been competitive in several of their losses this year. Nine of their defeats have come by 10 points or less, including each of their last five losses. Bethune-Cookman’s record could easily be better than it is, but they’ve come up on the wrong end of close games more often than not.
On the flip side, the Stetson Hatters came into the 2016-17 season riding the high of advancing to the Atlantic Sun Tournament last year as a 7-seed. While they fell in overtime to the Florida Gulf Coast Eagles, the Hatters created a ton of buzz for this season.
With virtually their whole roster back for another go-round this year, the Hatters were a trendy sleeper pick in the Atlantic Sun. While the start of conference play hasn’t gone as planned, the Hatters can’t be ruled out based on how last season went for them.
Sophomore forward Derick Newton and junior guard Divine Myles have led the way for the 9-15 Hatters. Newton is averaging a team-best 18.0 points and 5.8 rebounds per contest, while Myles is averaging 16.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 4.2 assists.
Unlike the Wildcats, the Hatters have depth across their roster that has allowed them to almost match last year’s win total already. Nine players are averaging at least 3.4 points per contest, and with the exception of Brian Pegg, they’ve all appeared in at least 23 of the team’s 24 contests.
Coach Corey Williams has a lot of trust in his players, which allows him to deploy different lineups to create unique options on the offensive end, which in turn forces their opponents to be on their toes at all times.
With both teams coming into Wednesday’s tilt on the heels of a loss, a win would do wonders for their confidence levels moving forwards. Both teams are towards the bottom of their respective conferences, and are looking for any source of positive momentum as the second half of conference play is just around the corner.
Whether you follow the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats and/or the Stetson Hatters, or are just a fan of high-quality basketball games between rivals, you won’t want to miss Wednesday night’s tilt between these two.
If history is any indication, the latest installment of the Volusia County Rivalry will be a classic.
– T. Bennett