BOCA RATON, Fla. -- We've been mentioning the Atlantic Sun prominently this season, what with all the early upsets and Belmont's run at a third straight title and all, but we haven't talked much about its most improved team. Stetson has never achieved the NCAA Tournament since Glenn Wilkes (552 wins) brought the school up from NAIA in the Seventies.
But they're pretty decent this year. At 13-15 overall, the Hatters have a chance to break .500 for the first time since 2000-01, and they have a solid player in junior Garfield Blair
, a 6-5 Orlando native who makes half his shots and leads the team in rebounds as well. Stetson's been hanging around fourth-place position in the league all year (8-5 at the moment), and had a big 12-point home win
against East Tennessee State 10 days ago.
And contrary to what I've heard about the idea that non-ACC or SEC basketball in Florida not being able to draw fruit flies, Stetson fans are great. There was a good weekday crowd last night, even for a nonconference game with Savannah State, and the atmosphere was rich and homey. A guy with a hoop walked around inviting kids to take a shot with a plastic ball, and you'd get a balsa-wood airplane if you made it. There were cheerleaders in windbreakers. That's right, windbreakers!
And then there's Gus. At the last media timeout of every Stetson home game, the fans call for him: "Gus! Gus! Gus!" An older gentleman bounds from the stands, runs out on the floor, and spells out "STETSON" with his arms and legs. The crowd, as pictured above, loves it.
It's all very "Dancin' Homer,"
except that Gus has been doing it since 1984, back when Matt Groening was still drawing dudes in fezes for weekly newspapers. The story goes like this: in the good old days, when Wilkes was coach Stetson was winning games by the bushelful, a player named Jon Peacock would spell the school's name out during timeouts at home to get the student section riled up.
But early in the season following Peacock's graduation 24 years ago, the Hatters found themselves down by one with 18 seconds to go early in the 1984-85 season. So Gus (known to some as Leslie "Gus" Gibbs, a local shopowner) took it upon himself to jump over the scorer's table during a time out, spell out the name, and rally the team to victory. And they won! While the wins have become less and less common, Gus has kept up the tradition. The students even wear "Back the Hats" T-shirts of Gus in the seven letter-poses.
As for the game, Blair was out with a sternum injury he took on when he was elbowed during a game last week, and the remaining Hats fell in overtime 63-60
to a Savannah State team that will play anyone, anywhere. When the Chris Linton
3 broke the tie at the final buzzer, many fans came over to Gus' seat behind press row to pat him on the back and shake his hand.
Gus seemed to take the loss hard. After all the condolences, he checked his phone, and shuffled out the back door of the gymnasium, out into the warm Florida night. Bradley.
Stetson wasn't the only team to absorb a close home drop last night, that No. 1-rated team in our State index lost as well. It took a Jeremy Crouch jumper
with 11 seconds to go, three denied chances in the final seconds and a whole lot of answered runs over the course of the game, but the Braves were able to do what no team's done yet this year: beat Drake in Des Moines. Nothing was really learned about how to beat Drake in the 72-71 Bradley win
, except that if you can find a way to out-grit and out-hustle them, you might just find yourself in the game at the end with a chance to win. That being said, Drake is likely one Valley loss away from feeling nervous about its at-large status headed into St. Louis.
We know we haven't talked too much about the Braves this season, mostly because they've been in that wide class of perpetual powers that's been plowed over by the MVC's new breed, and because of inconsistent play. It's been a turbulent year, with an unfortunate underage drinking incident
and an early-season knee injury to Crouch
(who had 23 last night) providing the primary storylines.
But on the court, BU has dug out of an 0-4 MVC hole with eight wins in 10 games, and all of a sudden is 9-6 and back in the race for a Valley No. 3 seed. There's no chance at an at-large with a 16-12 overall record, but we're on Bradley Watch for the third straight season... is this team peaking at the right time to make a run in St. Louis?
Also on your super-lite mid-major night...How 'Bout™
Kent State? Rolling along in the MAC East at 11-2. Kent won its fifth straight by beating hapless Buffalo on the road by 10
. (We can remember the not-too-distant past when the 2004-05 Bulls had plenty of hap.) There's a lot at stake this Saturday at St. Mary's, and a Golden Flashes win could put them squarely in the at-large pool.
Elsewhere in that division, Akron is two back and not exactly folding the tents after having lost leading scorer and rebounder Jeremiah Wood
for the foreseeable future. The Zips are still two games back at 9-4, and won their second consecutive last night by beating Miami (Oh.) by four
at historic Millett Hall. It was a slow n' nasty battle with a lot of hot shooting, and both teams only took down 19 boards. Ohio (8-5) stayed in third by blowing out Bowling Green, 69-48
Davidson? For much of last night's tangle with UNCG, the G!O!T!N! wasn't that much of a G!, but there was that part in the second half where the Spartans put on a little run. Despite the scoreboard, it was exactly the kind of two-man showcase that would make ESPN2 want to order a seven-game series -- Davidson's Stephen Curry did that 30 point, 10-for-18 kind of thing that viewers were promised, and UNCG's Kyle Hines was given every possible chance to shine on the national TV. And he did, with 18 points and 11 rebounds.
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