Second-Half Surge Keeps Panthers Win Streak Alive

Donny Rieber Jr | Sports Lowdown

The Florida Tech Panthers used a 50-point second half to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat on Tuesday, taking down Flagler 76-73 in a non-conference battle, resulting in the Panthers fifth straight victory.

Panthers coach Billy Mims earned his 200th win on Saturday and it took him three days to get 201.

Current Sunshine State Conference Players of the Week Derek Murphy (23 points) and Antonis Pefanis (17 points) led the Panthers, while R.J. Coil scored 15 and Cory Kaplan chipped in with 10. Kaplan also had a block and two steals.

“A great second half by Cory Kaplan tonight,” said Mims during his postgame interview with Jim Mitchell. “That might be the best defensive 20 minutes of basketball I’ve ever seen Cory play.”

The first half of this game was ugly on both sides early. Flagler led 6-5 and things went back-and-forth for a bit before Coil and Murphy each had a block and Murphy got a steal, as Flagler missed three shots inside, after Florida Tech had taken a 12-9 lead.

The Panthers (5-1) then went cold from the field, going about five and a half minutes without a bucket and an ugly 0-for-7 stretch from the field. Even with all that, Flagler only led by three, 16-13.

A three by Kaplan tied it at 16, but Flagler would then go on a run that saw them make six of eight shots to end the half. They would take a 36-26 lead into the locker room. The Panthers were a dismal 9-for-25 from the field in the first half, shooting 36 percent. They were just 3-for-13 behind the three-point line.

“Flagler did a really good job in the first half defensively,” Mims said. “They did a very good job of pushing us out of our offense and they were very physical.”

Things did not start well for the Panthers in the second half, as they had three turnovers in the first 2:32. A three-point play by Murphy turned things around, as it sparked a 14-0 run by the home team and a 19-4 run overall, making it 50-45 Panthers.

“In the second half we started playing with energy, said Mims. “When we upped our energy, our effort was upped as well.”

Proof of that was the fact that the Panthers shot 52 percent and forced 11 turnovers in the second half, overall.

The Saints (3-2) went 5:09 without a field goal in that stretch, but they battled back with a run of their own, tying the game at 52 with a three-pointer by Damerit Brown. The teams would go back-and-forth for a stretch, with multiple ties.

Coil would foul out with 4:57 to go in the game.

After Pefanis drilled a three with 3:53 to go, Brown would answer, tying things at 66. After the Panthers stretched it to 70-66, a three by Gedi Juozapaitis made it a one-point game. A jumper by Murphy made it 72-69 with 2:03 left and was answered by a Juozapaitis dunk, cutting it to 72-71 with 1:47 to go.

Another stretch of missed shots on both sides followed until Murphy was fouled with 29.8 seconds left and drained both free throws, giving the Panthers a three-point lead.

Juozapaitis would drain two on the other end with 11 seconds left, but down three, the Saints were forced to foul and Darius Wright made both from the line, making it 76-73 with 6.9 left.

A desperation three by Flagler was off the mark, and the Panthers escaped with an improbable victory.

For more info: Flagler @ Florida Tech Box Score

Florida Tech will open Sunshine State Conference play Saturday, against Eckerd College at the Clemente Center. The game will tip off shortly after 4:00 p.m., following the women’s game.