How the Florida Gators helped Stetson shock South Carolina

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Monday’s upset over the Gamecocks actually began during Sunday night’s practice.

Stetson’s historic upset of South Carolina earlier this week didn’t happen by accident.

Ask anybody on the team, and they’ll tell you the groundwork for Monday’s 63-56 win over the Gamecocks — Stetson’s first over an SEC opponent since 2004 — was actually laid during practice the night before.

And it had nothing to do with schemes, or plays, or game plans.

“I was sitting around the other day and Repeat After Us came on,” said head coach Donnie Jones, referring to the ESPN documentary about the University of Florida’s back-to-back national championships in 2006-07. Jones was an assistant both years.

“I watched the first 15 minutes of that, and it just clicked. I knew I had to show our team. So at practice the night before I opened up the first hour with us watching it, and me explaining what the characteristics were of this championship team.

“I wanted them to understand that these individuals are no different than you. They all have a story.”

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The next night, the Hatters (6-10) wrote their own fairy tale.

Stetson led for all but 3:42 in Monday’s win, controlling the game with a dominant defensive effort that included holding South Carolina to just 37 percent shooting, and forcing 15 turnovers. The Gamecocks (8-5) were coming off an upset win over defending champion Virginia, and are just three seasons removed from a Final Four appearance.

Stetson, meanwhile, went 0-16 on the road last year.

“I had a really good feeling going into the game,” said junior Christiaan Jones. “When we started out the way that we did, I knew we’d have a really good chance because everybody was focused.”

Perhaps the only thing bigger than the win was the emergence of Jones, who led all scorers with 18 points. One of the few returners from last season’s 7-win team, the junior had been struggling over the past month and saw his role diminish.

Jones said Sunday’s documentary helped him refocus for the second half of the season.

“I think it just made us realize that anything is possible,” said Jones, a South Carolina native who played his high basketball right down the road at Cardinal Newman. “Nothing is impossible, and that was our mindset going into that game.”

The Hatters opened up ASUN play on Thursday with a 66-63 loss to Lipscomb, and will look to get back on track Saturday afternoon at Kennesaw State.

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