The Hatters are two games from the NCAA tournament.
DELAND — Stetson head men’s basketball coach Donnie Jones knows a thing or two about how things work in March.
After all, he was part of two national championship runs as an assistant at the University of Florida, led the UCF men to a pair of postseason appearances, and was on Dayton’s staff last season when the Flyers earned an NIT bid.
So turning the page from Tuesday’s ASUN quarterfinal win over North Alabama to Thursday’s semifinal showdown with No. 1 Liberty shouldn’t be too hard.
“It’s about rest, finding out where we’re going and getting to the game plan,” Jones said following Tuesday’s 82-72 win. “The good news is everyone has played everyone twice so far, so whether it’s Liberty or North Florida, we just played them both. For us, it’s about getting rested, going out and focusing on what we do.”
Jones didn’t know it immediately after the game, but would soon learn that the Hatters (16-16) would travel to Liberty (28-4) on Thursday (7 p.m.) with a spot in Sunday’s ASUN title game on the line.
The top-ranked Flames split with the Hatters during the regular season, losing in DeLand in January but dominating Stetson at home last weekend.
In order for the Hatters to keep their storybook season alive, they’ll have to find a way to hand the Flames just their fifth loss this season. Last March, Liberty advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
“I think we learned how to keep our composure (Tuesday),” said freshman Rob Perry, who had 13 points in the win. “It was a different mentality, because everybody is coming at our necks. We have to come with a chip on our shoulders every game.”
The Hatters overcome a pair of sizable deficits in Tuesday’s win, using a 19-0 run in the first half to take a 35-34 lead into the locker room. Stetson trailed again early in the second half, but hit 12 straight free throws over the final six minutes to ice the game.
Stetson finished the night 25 of 26 from the line, hit 9 of 18 shots from beyond the arc, and shot 53 percent from the field.
“We’re trying to climb that mountain,” said Perry. “We know it’s going to be harder as we go, but we’re going to embrace as we keep going.”
The Hatters defeated the Flames, 48-43, in January but suffered a 28-point loss last Sunday in Virginia. The winner of Thursday’s game will face either Lipscomb or North Florida in Sunday’s ASUN championship game.
“A lot of emotion,” said junior Kenny Aninye, who had 21 points in Tuesday’s win. “We have a goal, though ... the NCAA tournament.”