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DAYTONA BEACH — Oh, what a difference eight months and a day can make.
Well, that, some unselfish guard play and a virtuoso performance from an upstart big man.
Belgian 6-foot-11 junior center Aubin Gateretse scored 26 points including five dunks, grabbed 11 rebounds and punished Milwaukee inside as Stetson shook off a sluggish start to score an 85-67 win over the Panthers in a semifinal in the Ocean Bracket of the Sunshine Slam at the Ocean Center on Monday afternoon.
The result sent the Hatters (2-2) into the bracket’s championship game at noon on Tuesday where they will meet Central Michigan. The Chippewas earned a 70-56 win over Siena in the tournament’s first game on Monday.
It also reversed an 87-83 Milwaukee win in the College Basketball Invitational on March 19, which denied the Hatters their first postseason victory as a member of Division I.
Yet that may as well have been a decade ago on Monday as Stetson used a 37-8 extended, first-half run to flip an early disaster into a rousing triumph.
“I really think our guys just wanted to play well,” Stetson coach Donnie Jones said. “We’ve got a group that cares, we’ve got good chemistry, we just don’t really know how to trust each other yet. We got beat up a couple of games (at No. 6 Houston and at UNLV) and had to come out and get some confidence and you saw once we got going, we never really looked back.”
Five early turnovers and a cold shooting snap plagued the Hatters early as Milwaukee pulled out to a 14-2 lead, prompting an early timeout from Jones. Stetson senior point guard Stephan Swenson, who finished with 11 points and 10 assists, helped steady the ship in the face of the Panthers’ defense, passing out six helpers without a turnover as the Hatters flipped the script. Jalen Blackmon scored 14 points over the opening 20 minutes as Stetson took a 43-30 lead into the break.
At that point, Gateretse had a modest eight points. But the second half was his as nearly every Milwaukee spurt was seemingly ended by a Gateretse tomahawk slam and Swenson, Blackmon and the rest of the Hatters guard just kept feeding the hot hand. Along the way, Gatereste matched the program record for shooting percentage, going 12 of 13 (92.3%) and tying a mark set by Chad Lambert in a game against Florida International on Jan. 25, 1996.
Last season, Gateretse averaged just 7.9 minutes per game as the team’s third option underneath behind Mahamadou Diawara and Josh Smith. But Diawara transferred to Oregon before the season, Smith is out indefinitely with an injury and Gateretse is seizing the moment, now up to 14 points and 8.8 boards per game.
“He’s been the most improved for us in the fall and summer,” Jones said. “It was good to see him finally do it in a game. He’s been doing it in practice and to get a chance to make a difference was big for us.
“I think he saw the opportunity and he grabbed it. He’s been as good as anybody in practice every day.”
Milwaukee’s BJ Freeman, who set a CBI scoring record with 43 points against the Hatters in March, led Milwaukee with 20 including 6 of 12 from 3-point range. But Stetson was much better defensively this time around, clamping down on the Panthers (2-3) to the tune of 36% shooting. The Hatters, meanwhile, shot 55% with 22 assists on 33 field goals all while holding a 41-34 advantage on the glass.
Blackmon added 22 points to the Stetson cause with Tristan Gross scoring 11.
The event’s other four-team pod, the Beach Bracket, was set to tipoff with a game between Florida State and UNLV at 5:30 on Monday evening. Richmond was slated to meet No. 18 Colorado in the nightcap.
Central Michigan 70, Siena 56
The Chippewas (2-3) forced 21 turnovers and turned them into 26 points as they pulled away for a victory to open play on Monday.
Brian Taylor led CMU with 21 points while Anthony Pritchard scored 18 points on 8 of 11 shooting and added team highs in rebounds (seven), assists (nine) and steals (four). Central Michigan built a 26-4 advantage in points off turnovers and outscored Siena 17-0 on fastbreaks.
The Saints (1-3) were led by Giovanni Emejuru with 20 points with Mason Courtney adding 13. Siena will close out the tournament, meeting the Panthers at 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday in the Ocean Bracket consolation game.