Ex-St. Thomas Aquinas star finally ‘figuring it out’ at NSU as Sharks win streak hits 42

Skill can be a curse.

That, in essence, is what Nova Southeastern University men’s basketball coach Jim Crutchfield said when asked about his 6-10, 245-pound power forward, Shane Hunter.

As a true freshman in 2020-2021, Hunter made 6-of-7 on 3-pointers in a Sunshine State Conference semifinal win over Palm Beach Atlantic.

“He paid the price for that,” Crutchfield said.

Translation: Hunter started acting too much like a guard instead of using his size inside. Straying so far from the hoop has cost Hunter, who has started just one game in his first three seasons.

Last season, Hunter appeared in 31 games, all off the bench, as the Sharks went 36-0 to win NSU’s first NCAA Division II national championship in men’s basketball.

This season, the top-ranked Sharks are off to a 6-0 start, and Hunter – finally a starter – is getting recognized.

On Monday, he was named the SSC’s Defensive Player of the Week. In wins over Lynn and Barry last week, Hunter averaged 19.5 points, 6.5 rebounds and, most impressively, 6.5 blocks.

Said Crutchfield: “In the past, we’ve reviewed video with Shane and said: ‘We believe you could’ve blocked that shot. Why didn’t you?’

“Now, it’s not just that he’s blocking shots. He’s hungry to block more.”

Similarly, the Sharks are hungry to continue their 42-game winning streak. The Sharks have also won 47 straight at home and 42 in a row in their league.

And, despite losing all five of its starters from last season, NSU ranks third in the country in scoring (106.8 points per game).

Hunter, a former St. Thomas Aquinas standout, is a major part of the NSU reload.

“He’s finally realizing his strengths,” Crutchfield said. “He’s also taking advantage of his opportunity with us losing all five starters.”

Hunter has waited his turn behind three outstanding forwards: 2023 National Player of the Year R.J. Sunahara, who now plays for the Georgia Bulldogs; 2022 National Player of the Year Sekou Sylla, who has played pro ball in Finland and Australia; and Mark Matthews, who has played pro ball in Portugal and might have won national honors had it not been for a COVID shutdown of the 2020-2021 season.

“I’m smart enough to know that those guys were better than me when they were here,” said Hunter, who is on track to get his Bachelor’s degree in Marketing in May. “But I kept working hard and developing.”

Hunter has made a major adjustment on his shot selection. He went 18-for-39 on 3-pointers as a freshman and 6-for-26 from deep in his second season. Last season, he went 0-for-4 from deep, and those were all desperation heaves at the end of the shot clock.

This season, he has yet to shoot from beyond the arc.

“I know I can make 3-pointers, and I think (Crutchfield) knows it, too,” said Hunter, 22. “But the mindset now is that I can be so dominant inside that I don’t need to settle for 3-pointers.”

THIS AND THAT

FIU sophomore point guard Arturo Dean on Monday earned his first Conference USA Player of the Week honor. He had a program-record 10 steals against Florida Gulf Coast, and he had a career-high 27 points in a win over LIU.

Dean, a Miami native and the reigning C-USA Freshman of the Year, leads the nation with 4.5 steals per game. FIU is 3-7 so far this season.

St. Thomas University’s men’s soccer team got closer to a national title than any other local college this fall, losing in the NAIA national semifinals. On a slick and rain-filled filed, the Bobcats lost 1-0 in overtime to Milligan (Tennessee). STU, ranked third in the nation, finished its season 18-2-3, and the Bobcats set a program record for deepest advance in the playoffs.

The Bobcats’ women’s volleyball team, ranked 22nd in the nation, was one of 16 teams to advance to nationals, but they failed to make it out of group play. They had their 22-match win streak snapped at nationals, finishing with a 27-3 record. Prior to this season, they hadn’t won a playoff game since 2001.

The NSU women’s soccer team (12-5-1) lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament, falling 3-1 to Florida Tech.

In NCAA Division II men’s soccer, Barry University lost 2-1 to Limestone in the Sweet-16 round. Barry finished 13-5-1.

Florida Memorial University’s men’s basketball team is off to a 9-1 start, good enough to get ranked 25th in the nation in the NAIA poll. This is FMU’s first ranking in years.

STU’s men’s basketball team (7-2) is ranked 24th after having dropped 10 places.