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DeLAND, Fla. – The USC Upstate men's basketball team struggled from the field Thursday evening and a late double-digit deficit proved to be too much to overcome as the Spartans fell 73-66 at Stetson University inside the Edmunds Center in Atlantic Sun Conference action.
The Spartans (13-12, 7-5 A-Sun) drop the season series with Stetson and fall to 3-2 in A-Sun road games, while the Hatters (10-13, 7-5 A-Sun) put an end to a three-game skid and pull even with Upstate and Jacksonville in a three-way tie for third place in the league standings.
On a night where Upstate's two leading scorers connected on just nine of 40 attempts from the field, the Spartans found themselves in a fight down to the final minutes but came up short as Stetson guard Chris Perez drilled five free throws in the final 90 seconds to seal the victory.
"If you look at the entire game we took a bunch of extremely difficult shots," said USC Upstate Head Coach Eddie Payne. "Until we learn how to trust each other on the offensive end and get better possessions we are not going to be successful."
The Hatters led by as many as 11 points in the second half, coming with 5:38 to play on a layup from Adam Pegg, but Torrey Craig gave Upstate a spark on the next two possessions, draining back-to-back three-pointers to quickly cut the lead to just five at 65-60.
Upstate and Stetson traded a pair of field goals over the next four possessions before the Spartans were forced to foul and Perez iced the game at the charity stripe.
The Spartans capitalized on 16 offensive rebounds and turned those boards into 17 second chance points, but Stetson held a 32-30 edge in the paint, including a game-high 19 points from big man Adam Pegg.
"I thought we played fairly well in a lot of ways, but we did not get quality looks when we needed them, said Payne. "We are disappointed because we did a lot of good things but just didn't get it done."
Upstate forced 21 turnovers, but managed to score just 14 points off the Stetson miscues. The Spartans shot 38 percent from the field and 30 percent from long range, while the Hatters hit on 50 percent of their shots from the floor and behind the arc.
Fred Miller gave Upstate a much-needed lift off the bench, scoring 11 points on 5-for-7 shooting from the field in 20 minutes of action. Craig led the team with 16 points, while Ricardo Glenn added 10 and Jodd Maxey finished a bucket shy of a double-double with eight points and a game-high 12 rebounds.
"Fred Miller had a really nice game for us tonight," said Payne. "I was pleased to see what he did on the offensive and defensive side of the ball."
The Spartans will look to get back on track Saturday evening, traveling to Fort Myers, Fla., to battle Florida Gulf Coast in front of a national audience on ESPN3. The Eagles currently top the A-Sun standings at 9-3. Tip-off is slated for 5:15 p.m. at Alico Arena.