DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Wednesday night marked the 30th installment of the Volusia County Rivalry between the Stetson Hatters and the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats. In a rare mid-week non-conference battle in the midst of rigorous conference action, both teams came into the night looking for a momentum-building win.
There were several intriguing story lines coming into the match-up.
The Hatters held a commanding 23-6 advantage in the series coming into the night, but lost the last meeting between the two schools. Last season, the Hatters and Wildcats met on a pair of occasions, with each team winning once. Bethune-Cookman knocked off the Hatters in DeLand, 96-94.
A win on Wednesday would be the 10th win for the Hatters, and would eclipse their regular season win total from all of last season.
Following the post-season, Stetson finished at 12-22.
Lastly, sophomore forward Derick Newton came into the night needing just 14 points to pass the 1,000 mark for his young career.
With all of the additional story lines coming into the game, fans were in for a treat. Both teams did not disappoint, and it was yet another close encounter between the two instate rivals.
Despite falling behind by six at the break, Stetson came out in the second half looking to make up ground and take over the game. Behind the play of Newton and Divine Myles, the Hatters outscored the Wildcats by 15 points, and held on down the stretch for the 76-67 win.
Stetson came out of the gate early, taking a 9-3 lead at the first media timeout on the heels of three point jumpers from Leo Goodman and Luke Doyle.
As the first half ticked along, the Hatters would continue to hold a lead as the time ticked past the halfway point. However, the Wildcats continued to chip away ever so slowly, and were rewarded with their first lead of the game.
A layup from Brandon Suggs gave the Wildcats a brief 20-19 lead with 9:43 to play in the opening half. Goodman answered with a layup of his own for the Hatters, but another layup from Reggie Baker and a three from Brandon Tabb put the home side ahead by four.
Bethune-Cookman would stretch their lead to as many as 12 points in the opening half, and took a six-point lead into the break.
Out of the gate in the second, they quickly stretched their lead to a game-high 13 points, thanks to a three pointer from Diamante Lewis.
Just when it looked as though the Wildcats were going to run away with the contest, the Hatters came right back.
Much like the Wildcats did in the first half, Stetson slowly chipped away at their deficit, and were eventually rewarded with a lead of their own. They managed to cut the deficit down to a pair on a couple of occasions, but weren’t able to retake the lead until under five minutes to play on the night.
With 4:28 to play in the game, Newton hit a pair of free throws to give the Hatters a 67-66 lead. Myles added a layup on the Hatters’ next possession, and they would never look back.
As the game ticked down, Newton was inching closer to passing the 1,000-point mark for his career. With 1:46 to play, he hit a pair of free throws to take him over the plateau.
He finished the night with 16 points, putting him at 1,002 for his career.
Thanks to some timely free throw shooting down the stretch, Stetson was able to pull away from the Wildcats for the 76-67 victory.
Despite the loss, several Wildcats put together some impressive stat lines. Seven of the eight players who saw action scored at least four points, while Ulmer Manzie was held pointless.
Brandon Tabb led the way, scoring a team-high 24 points to go along with 4 rebounds and 3 steals. He was extremely effective from three point range, going 7-of-10 from beyond the arc.
Fellow guard Diamante Lewis didn’t have the best shooting night, but he put everyone on triple-double watch as the game progressed. He finished the game with 7 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists, despite shooting just 2-of-15 from the floor.
Like their counterparts, seven of the eight players who saw action for the Hatters scored at least four points, while freshman Clay Verk was held scoreless off the bench.
Junior guard Divine Myles scored a career-high 29 points, on 12-of-20 shooting from the floor, to pace the Hatters. He also added 8 rebounds and 5 assists in the victory.
Despite Myles’ big night, the story of the game for the Hatters was Newton’s career milestone. He scored 16 points, taking him over the 1,000-point mark for his career. Newton also added 5 rebounds in the win.
With the loss, the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (4-17, 1-6) have lost their last three contests. They will continue their three-game home swing with a date on Saturday against the Delaware State Hornets.
The win gives the Stetson Hatters (10-15, 2-6) their second quality win in their last three outings. They will look to knock off the North Florida Ospreys for the second time in the last two weeks when the two square off on Saturday in DeLand.
– T. Bennett