The Florida Tech Panthers did not have their finest season in 2018, but on Saturday, they played the game of the season with the season on the line. Thanks to a game-high 21 points from senior Michael Milligan, who led five guys in double figures, the Panthers took down a 17-win Sharks squad 85-76.
Milligan went 7-for-10 from the field and 7-of-8 from the free-throw line, four rebounds, three assists and a steal.
With the victory, the Panthers finish the regular season 13-15, including 8-12 in Sunshine State Conference play. Their win on Saturday afternoon, coupled with Saint Leo’s loss to Rollins later in the evening, means the Panthers will travel to Barry to take on the top-seeded Buccaneers on Wednesday in the first round of the conference tournament.
Normally, going on the road in the playoffs is far from ideal, but considering the Panthers had one of the top road records in the conference at 6-4 this team may be better off on the road, especially considering they beat Barry 96-83 in January, in Miami Shores.
“We’re one of the best road teams in the SSC,” said Panthers coach Billy Mims, after the game. “It’s the most wins we’ve had on the road in my 13 years. We won the league and didn’t win that many games on the road. The year we won the league, we were 4-4 on the road.”
Lost in the playoff excitement was the fact that this was the final home game for Milligan, Patrick Anderson (17 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and four steals) Sam Daniel (16 points), and Jordan Majors (16 points), who were honored before the game in Senior Day festivities and then went out and made sure that their final home game would not be their final game of the season. Valur Valsson chipped in with 10 points.
“You hope and pray that on Senior Day, the seniors are gonna have the game of their life and all four seniors gave us a solid performance and they all contributed to the success of this team,” said Mims. “I asked them before the ballgame to leave their hearts out on the floor and there’s no doubt in my mind that they did.”
The game was tied at five early, but the Panthers used a 12-0 run including a three by Daniel and a 5-0 run by Majors to take a 17-5 lead. Malik Hardy’s three pulled the Sharks to within six, 17-11. The visitors kept coming, as a three by David Dennis made it 24-21 with 8:36 to go in the first half.
It was 28-25 with 5:59 to go after Tarin Gerard sank two free-throws. A three by Valsson made it 31-25 and FIT went on to carry a 41-33 lead into the half.
A couple quick hoops by the Sharks out of the break made it 41-37, but Daniel drained a three with 18 minutes left, giving the Panthers a seven-point lead. A 9-3 spurt by the Panthers made it a 50-40 game with 14:26 to go. Valsson found his stroke again from behind the arc, making it a 53-40 game.
Anderson was good from three with 11:48 to go, giving the Panthers a 58-44 lead. A three-ball from Majors with 10:57 left, saw the Panthers score their biggest lead of the night, a 15-point difference, 61-46.
NSU did get it down to 10 73-63 with 3:56 left in the contest and kept fighting, getting it all the way down to five, 81-76 with 24 seconds to go, but from there, it was Valsson and Daniel who made their free-throws and gave the Panthers the victory that saved their season.
“I am so proud of this team,” Mims said. “Our defense forced Nova into 16 turnovers and on the flip side, we turned it over eight times against a team that turned it over eight times. Nova was playing for a top-four spot and a chance to host the first round of the tournament, with that loss they might not now.”
Turns out Mims was right because, with the loss, Nova now has to go to Winter Park on Wednesday, to play Rollins.
The victory completed the season sweep of the Sharks, who Florida Tech beat back on December 9 in Fort Lauderdale, 103-99.
We will have full coverage of Wednesday’s game at Barry. Be sure to follow us on Twitter @Sports_Lowdown