Florida Tech did what few thought was possible Wednesday, taking down the seventh-ranked Florida Southern Moccasins 77-59 in a Sunshine State Conference shocker. It was the first conference win of the season for the Panthers, who started the new year with one of the biggest wins in program history.
“I’ve been here 14 years now and we’ve had some great wins in my time here where we’ve beaten some nationally ranked programs,” said Panthers coach Billy Mims. “Florida Southern is the all-time winningest program in this conference. They’ve won over 20 conference titles and they are the only team in the conference to win a national title and they’ve done it twice. Beating Florida Southern is always a historic win because you’re beating one of division II’s all-time great programs.”
This was a total team effort by the Panthers, who got off to a fast start and kept the pedal down all night. Antonis Pefanis led the Panthers with 21 points. He added four rebounds and two assists. R.J. Coil and Derek Murphy both finished with double-doubles on this night, with Murphy getting 20 points and 13 boards, while Coil had 18 points and 14 rebounds. Valur Valsson scored 10 points and dished five helpers.
Murphy’s performance was even more impressive when you consider he picked up his second foul with 8:19 to go in the first half and was forced to sit for the rest of the half.
A three-pointer by FSC’s Jonathan Lawton tied the game at eight. His two free-throws moments later made it 16-12 Panthers. A three by Pefanis and two Valsson free-throws stretched the Panthers lead to 23-15 and that sparked the home teams’ 13-0 run that included another three by Pefanis and two free-throws by Coil. All of a sudden, it was 33-15 with 5:18 to go in the half.
The Mocs’ closed it to 39-25 at the break, but the Panthers seized control late in the half. Coil had 16 points and six rebounds at halftime to lead the Panthers. Pefanis had 11 pointsand Murphy had six in 12 minutes on the court.
Florida Southern’s 6-0 run to start the second half cut the Panthers lead to eight, 39-31. The Panthers answered with a 7-0 run, capped by Valsson’s three with 16:06 left, making it 46-31. He would hit another three with 11:51 to go, as part of a 9-0 run that widened the Panthers lead to 57-36 with 10:36 left.
The Panthers maintained at least a17-point lead until there was 1:29 left in the game, when the Mocs’ got it to 16, 74-58. Things got a bit sloppy on both sides in the last couple minutes of the game, but Mims was able to empty his bench with 1:07 to go, and the Panthers coasted to the 18-
“After being 0-3 in the league and having only two days to get ready for a number seven team like Florida Southern, a coach couldn’t be prouder of his teams’ execution and effort tonight,” said Mims.
For more info: Florida Southern @ Florida Tech Box Score
Things don’t get any easier for the Panthers, as they will host the nation’s fifth-ranked team Saturday, in Nova Southeastern. The Sharks lead the country in scoring and come in with a record of 11-0, including 5-0 in the Sunshine State Conference.
“They press, trap, and run the entire game,” said Mims of Nova. “It’s a totally different game and a different style of play than we saw tonight. We’re gonna have to do everything in our power not to get into a track meet with them. We gotta control the tempo of the game and protect the basketball.”
Saturday’s game is scheduled to tip around 4:00 p.m., following the women’s contest.