|Shanasa Sanders and Stetson are at home in Hawkins Arena.|
By DANIEL SHIRLEY
DeLand, Fla., is more than 300 miles from Macon, but that has been an enjoyable trip for the Stetson women’s basketball program in recent years.
In fact, the Hatters have felt right at home at Hawkins Arena.
That comfort level continued Wednesday as the Hatters knocked off East Tennessee State 66-55 in the first round of the 2013 General Shale Atlantic Sun Basketball Championship. The win was the Hatters’ ninth in their past 10 games at Hawkins Arena.
“I think it’s a mixture,” Stetson senior Victoria McGowan said. “We like this floor, and we like this court. We like playing here. And we like playing in tournaments. Who doesn’t? This is the best time of the year, and we love that.”
That certainly has played out in recent seasons with Stetson’s success in the conference championship.
Stetson won the championship two years ago, and it finished second last year, losing to Florida Gulf Coast. Throw in some wins over Mercer in the regular season, and the Hatters have been dominant at Hawkins Arena.
McGowan has been key in much of that success, namely her half court shot in the semifinals two years ago for a game-winner to send the Hatters to the championship game.
She was important again Wednesday as she finished with 17 points and was one of three veteran leaders to finish in double figures. Shanasa Sanders, another senior, and Sasha Sims, a junior, both finished with 18 points.
“Our experience helps, I think,” McGowan said. “Last year, we had a lot of younger players, and they had to play a lot, and I think that helps us this year to have that experience.”
Stetson head coach Lynn Bria was happy to see the experience shine through Wednesday.
“It’s about time,” she said, only half-joking. “I’ve been waiting for them to do that for three years. Usually it’s one or two of them that play well, but I’ve been waiting for game when they’d all play well.”
Bria got her wish after a bit of a slow start for the second-seeded Hatters. They trailed by one at halftime but took control of the pace, and the game, in the second half.
Sanders shot 8-of-16 from the floor for the game, while Sims was 7-of-12, and McGowan was 5-of-14. All three players hit at least one 3-pointer, led by McGowan’s three, while they combined to shoot 7-of-11 from the foul line.
“We were nervous at the start,” McGowan said. “But once we settled down, we were OK.”