The Florida Tech Panthers had all five starters in double figures Saturday, beating Concordia St. Paul 95-89 in the Championship game of the annual Florida Tech Thanksgiving tournament. This was the fifth consecutive title game win for the Panthers in this tournament.
The Panthers (4-1) handed both Puerto Rico Bayamon and Concordia their first loss of the 2018-2019 campaign this weekend.
“Our team stepped up to the challenge this weekend,” said Panthers head coach Billy Mims. As a coach, you can’t ask for much more than to face two undefeated teams and beat ’em both.”
This was a huge victory for Mims personally, as it was his 200th at Florida Tech.
Antonis Pefanis scored 25 points for the second consecutive night to lead all scorers. R.J. Coil had 20 points and 12 rebounds, despite foul trouble that limited him to 28 minutes. Derek Murphy backed up his 28 point performance Friday, with a 17-point night, Valur Valsson added 12 points and 10 assists, and Dwayne Orija chipped in 11 points.
“That’s a first for us this season,” said Mims. “It probably shows that I got the right starting five out there, cause all of those guys are ready to help us win games.”
This was a battle all night long between these two teams and it was raining threes inside the Clemente Center from the outset. The Panthers were down 5-0 early, but Coil hit two from outside, to give the Panthers a 6-5 lead. Pefanis would hit one moments later, capping an 11-5 Panthers run.
Coil would make his third three of the half with 13:19 to go and the Panthers were up 17-11. The Golden Bears would get to within one at 19-18, and they eventually tied the game at 21, only to see the Panthers get two threes from Pefanis, sandwiched between one form Valsson, and stretch the lead to 32-27.
Murphy would get into the act, hitting his first three of the night with 6:20 left in the half, giving the home team a 37-31 lead. Pefanis followed with another of his own, stretching the lead to nine. Pefanis was 5-for-9 from long range on Saturday.
“What a way to be MVP,” Mims said of Pefanis. “His entire family from Greece, here in Florida for the first time to watch him play, how can you not like that?”
Valsson would hit from downtown to give the Panthers a 50-38 lead with two minutes left, and the Panthers would go to the locker room with a 52-42 lead.
Offensively, I thought we played great in the first half,” said Mims. “Defensively, it was a challenge all night long.”
Florida Tech would shoot 54.8 percent from the floor in that first half, going 17-for-31. They were an astounding 10-for-19 from beyond the arc. The Golden Bears matched that 17-for-31 shooting performance, but they were 7-for-16 from long range.
Valsson would be fouled on the first shot the Panthers took in the second half and he converted all three free throws. Bryndan Matthews would answer with a three for Concordia St. Paul, making it 55-45 1:01 into the half. Matthews would finish with 24 points to lead the Golden Bears.
Coil would get his second dunk of the weekend with 16:05 left, putting the Panthers up 59-48 and they would go on an 8-0 run later in the quarter, boosting their lead to 67-51. They were helped in that stretch, by two technical fouls on the Golden Bears. One on Max Keefe and one on coach Joey Jones, resulting in four free throws for FIT. Coil would make three of them.
They would go up as many as 18, thanks to another three by Pefanis. That made it 82-64 with 9:21 left in the contest.
Unfortunately, during that stretch, Coil and Murphy would pick up their fourth foul and were on the bench, as Concordia made a run.
“I had to sit two of our best players and Valur turned his ankle and had to come out of the game,” said Mims. “All of a sudden, I got a lot of young guys out there on the floor and I thought Concordia St. Paul did a good job of taking advantage of our misfortune. Their experience got them back in the game.”
The Golden Bears got it all the way down to six, 86-80 with 3:10 to go and 1:01 later, a layup by Matthews would cut it to four, 90-86.
A three by Isaiah McKay cut the deficit to three, 92-89, but the Panthers were able to work the final 1:09 off the clock and make a few free throws down the stretch, earning their fourth consecutive win.
“It was difficult down the stretch,” said Mims. Hats off to them, they’re a good basketball team.”
For more info: Concordia St. Paul @ Florida Tech Box Score
The Panthers were 29-of-60 from the field for the game, shooting 48.3 percent. They were 14-for-31 from deep, a 45.2 percent clip and they only turned the ball over 10 times, resulting in 13 points for the Golden Bears.
Next up, the Panthers long homestand continues Tuesday, when they welcome in Flagler College for a non-conference tilt. The game is scheduled for a 7:00 p.m. tip.