The Florida Tech Panthers hosted #5 Nova Southeastern on Saturday at the Clemente Center and they were their own worst enemy, turning the ball over 27 times in an 82–62 loss to the undefeated Sharks.
“We shot ourselves in the foot,” said Panthers head coach Billy Mims. “We turned the ball over and we didn’t shoot well. “We were way too sloppy wit the basketball.”
NSU (12-0, 6-0 SSC) scored 35 points off those turnovers, while the Panthers managed just eight points off 10 Sharks turnovers. Even with all that and the fact that FIT was a dismal 2-for-17 from three point range, this was a game for much of the afternoon, with the Panthers trailing by just seven, 55-48 with eight minutes left in the contest.
“For probably 30-35 minutes of this game we controlled the tempo,” said Mims. “This team averages 110 points a game, tonight they scored 82. That’s 28 points below their average.”
To that end, the Sharks have two guys who lead the league in scoring. Connor Zinaich averages 21 a game, he scored six. Mark Matthews averages 20 and scored 13. Add to that, point guard David Dennis, who averages 18. The Panthers held him to five.
“Those guys were held way below their season averages because we dictated the style of the game,” Mims said. “I’m proud of our guys for sticking to our game plan, believing it would work and giving us a chance to compete with that game plan.”
Derek Murphy led the Panthers with 28 points, while R.J. Coil had another double-double, scoring 12 points and pulling down 11 rebounds. Coil was in foul trouble all game long, but managed to stay in until there was 3:59 left in the game.
Darius Wright only had two points, but he had six assists and six rebounds, to go along with four steals, garnering praise from his coach. “He was the guy that handled the ball better than anyone for us,” said Mims. “That’s a three-to-one assist to turnover ratio and that’s as good as you can hope for.”
Nova jumped out to a 7-0 lead, only to watch Florida Tech close the gap with a six-point run. The Sharks went on a bit of a run again, boosting their lead to 20-8 when Eddie Puisus hit a three with 10:37 to go. The Panthers kept it close the rest of the half, with Nova holding a 14-13 advantage in the final 10 minutes, translating to a 34-21 lead at the break.
“We held them to 37.5 percent shooting, that’s gotta be their lowest field goal percentage of the year,” said Mims. “In the first half, they shot 33 percent from the floor, 29 percent behind the arc and 57 percent from the line. Those are some diabolical numbers for a team averaging 110 points a game.”
A three by Mikkel Kolstad gave the Sharks a 42-28 lead with 15:21 to go, but the Panthers went on a bit of a run, cutting it to 42-34, thanks to a jumper by Coil, a three by Pefanis and a free-throw by Murphy.
Nick Smith’s three ball with 9:44 to go got the visitors lead back up to 13, but the Panthers would not go away, as Trey Schaneville answered with a three and Murphy finished off a three-point play and backed that up with a made jumper, cutting it to seven, 55-48.
Florida Tech (7-6, 1-4 SSC) had a chance to cut into that lead even more, but back-to-back turnovers by Murphy and Schaneville helped the Sharks go up by 12 with 5:46 to go. That turover was really the only mistake by Schaneville, who finished with seven points and three assists in 21 minutes.
“I thought it might have been his best 21 minutes of the year,” said Mims of Schaneville’s effort.
A 10-0 run by the Sharks was capped by a three from Kolstad with 3:40 to go, putting his team up 70-50 and taking any chance of an upset off the table as NSU kept their lead between 18 and 20 points for much of the final few minutes.
For more info: Nova Southeastern @ Florida Tech Box Score
The Panthers will look to regroup and turn things around Wednesday, when they travel to Saint Leo. The Lions are 5-9 overall and 2-4 in the Sunshine State Conference. They beat Embry-Riddle 88-82 on Saturday.
Tip on Wednesday night is scheduled for approximately 7:30 p.m., following the women’s game.