Stellar First Half Carries Panthers

Valur Valsson (15) Antonis Pefanis (#35) Donny Rieber Jr | Sports Lowdown

Four players scored in double figures on Tuesday as the Florida Tech men used a big first half to propel them to an 80-67 win over Puerto Rico Mayaguez in their final game before the Thanksgiving break.

R.J. Coil led the Panthers with 19 points, despite picking up his third foul 14 seconds into the second half. Derek Murphy finished with a double-double, scoring 16 points and bringing down 15 rebounds. Antonis Pefanis had 12 points and seven rebounds and Valur Valsson picked up 10 points and dished out a team-high nine assists.

The Panthers (2-1) scored 44 points in the first half of this one, shooting 16-of-31 from the floor (51.6 percent), including 7-of-15 from long range (46.7 percent). They capped the half off, going 5-for-6 from the free-throw line (83.3 percent).

The second half was a completely different story for the Panthers, who took their foot off the gas pedal in the last three minutes of the first half and that carried over to the second half, as the team went 9-for-29 from the field and were outscored 42-36 in the final 20 minutes.

After the opening tip, Puerto Rico Mayaguez came away with a steal and laid it in. That was the only lead they would have the rest of the night. Murphy would tie it up 30 seconds later and the Panthers would take the lead for good on a layup from Dwayne Orija 1:53 into the game.

Valsson would make the first three of the night with 16:27 to go in the half and the Panthers were off and running. Coil and Pefanis would each hit threes and Murphy and Valsson got into the act. Those four consecutive long balls made it 23-9.

Murphy would then hit a jumper, a fast break bucket and two free throws, sandwiched around a couple Mayaguez hoops. Murphy’s personal six-point run made it 31-12.

Cory Kaplan then got into the act, hitting a three and then a  free-throw, on the next possession.

With 4:06 to go, Trey Schaneville, who is coming off a record-setting season with the Panthers football team, saw his first game action of the year. He made his presence felt with a three-pointer with 36 seconds left in the half.

Nieja Jordan got the Clemente Center jumping when he slammed one home with 3:07 to go and gave the Panthers a 41-18 lead.

“That’s as good as this young team can perform for 17 minutes,” said Panthers coach Billy Mims. “We were up 23 with 3:07 to go in the first half and we went to the locker room up 19. You don’t want to go to the locker room giving them any momentum or confidence boost and that’s what they got.”

Florida Tech needed to establish the dominance they showed for the majority of the first half when they came out to start the second half. Unfortunately, they did anything but. Orija would hit another three 50 seconds in and the Panthers would not score again until Pefanis drilled a much-needed three with 16:22 left, giving the Panthers a 50-33 lead.

Puerto Rico Mayaguez would then go on a 7-0 run to cut the deficit to 10, only to see Coil drain another three with 14:42 left in the contest. He would hit another with just under 12 to go, getting it back to a 17 point margin, 58-41.

“They were trying to ugly it up as we say at times,” said Mims of Mayaguez. “It looked like a bad intermural game out there at times in the second half and they are a scrappy team, they don’t quit and they’re gonna keep playing hard.”

Mayaguez would never get closer than 12 the rest of the night and the Panthers spread the lead to 21 with 5:16 to go on a layup from Valsson and he would get it back to 21 moments later, hitting free throws.

At that point it was 74-53 with 4:05 left and the Panthers were able to empty the bench with 1:48 to go. Mims would have liked to see that happen sooner.

“In the second half it looked like Mayaguez wanted it more in the second half,” he said. “We were gonna coast to victory. The old saying, we were playing not to lose in the second half and they were playing to win.”

For more info: Puerto Rico Mayaguez @ Florida Tech Box Score

The Panthers will be right back on their home floor Friday, as they welcome in Georgian Court University, out of New Jersey, Concordia St. Paul from Minnesota and Puerto Rico Bayamon to the Clemente Center for the annual Florida Tech Thanksgiving Tournament.

Georgian Court and Concordia St. Paul will start things on Friday, as they tip off at 1:30. Florida Tech will play Bayamon at 4:00 p.m.

“They gave us all we wanted last year,” said Mims of Bayamon. They will be a more veteran team than the Mayaguez team we saw tonight.”