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Russell Scores 21 in Panthers Debut

Donny Rieber Jr | Sports Lowdown Sesan Russell scored 21 points in his Panthers debut Saturday

The Florida Tech Panthers lost their fifth straight game Saturday, falling to Palm Beach Atlantic 71-67 at the Clemente Center. The Panthers were their own worst enemy inthisone, turning the ball over 29 times. leading to 33 Sailfish points. 

“Missed free-throws and turnovers, that was the difference in the game,” said Panthers coach Billy Mims. “Everything else we did well. “I’m really proud of our team. We showed a lot of character tonight and defensively, we were as good as we’ve been all year.” 

Florida Tech (7-10, 1-8 SSC) held the Sailfish to 37.3 percent shooting (25-for-67), including 6-for-22 from three-point range. On the other side, the Panthers were 24-of-52 from the floor (46.2 percent), hitting nine of their 27 threes. 

“We shot better from the floor than they did, we shot better than them from three,” he continued,” but we missed five free-throws (10-for-15) and we lost by four.” 

Freshmen newcomer Sesan Russell , who was officially cleared to play on Friday, made an immediate impact with his new team, scoring a team-high 21 points. He did turn the ball over 10 times, but considering he had two practices in a new system, with new teammates, things should improve drastically in that department. 

Russell transferred from U-Mass Lowell, and according to Panthers coach Billy Mims, he has been on campus a week. Mims recruited him in England in 2017, but he decided to go the Division I route. He decided to transfer to Florida Tech last week, and after all the NCAA requirements were met, he was allowed to practice two days ago and make his debut Saturday. 

“We signed off on him yesterday afternoon at three o’clock,” said Mims. “He learned a lot of stuff in two days, but he’s still miles away from where he needs to be. He had two days to get ready and I played him forty minutes today, because he deserved it.” 

Derek Murphy finished with a double-double, going for 19 points and 11 rebounds. Antonis Pefanis was the third double-digit scorer for the Panthers, putting up 16.  

R.J. Coil also had 11 rebounds, but was forced to leave the game with 13:48 left in the second half, after he dislocated his shoulder going after a loose ball.  

“I’m sure he’ll be fine after they pop it back in,” said Mims. “Stephen McCray, the best trainer in the country, left right away and took him to the emergency room. I know that R.J.’s in great hands.” 

Things got off to a good start for Florida Tech, as they hit their first four three-pointers and jumped out to a 12-5 lead. Russell’s first points as a Panther came with 12:10 to go in the first half, giving the Panthers a 19-13 lead. 

PBA (8-9, 4-5 SSC) tied things up with a 6-0 run, only to see Russell drill his first three in Crimson and Grey, giving the Panthers the lead again with 10:59 to go. 

After the Sailfish took a 22-21 lead, the Panthers got a three from Pefanis, a steal by Coil and a bucket from Valur Valsson. PBA would make up the difference, cutting the lead to one, 29-28, on a three by Paxton Wilson with 4:42 left.  

Things went back-and-forth the rest of the quarter, before Russell laid one in with six seconds left, giving the Panthers a 31-30 lead at halftime. 

The second half started with both teams trading baskets. A three by Wilson would give the visitors a 40-37 lead with six and a half minutes gone in the half. Pefanis would tie it up with a three, with 13:25 to go. Wilson would hit another, moments later, giving his team a 45-42 lead with 11:40 left. He would finish the night with 10 points, going 3-for-5 from outside. 

The Panthers took a 46-45 lead on a Pefanis layup, only to see the Sailfish run off seven in a row and take a 52-46 lead with 8:08 left. It took two minutes for PBA to stretch that lead to 58-49. 

Murphy would hit a three and back that up with a monster dunk, closing the gap to 58-54 and bringing the Clemente Center fans to their feet. Free-throws by Valsson made it 59-56 with 4:11 to go in the game and a three-point play from Russell moments later, kept the Panthers within striking disdtance, making it 61-59. 

Back-to-back Palm Beach layups made it a 65-59 game with 2:13 left. A three-point play by Russell would make it 65-62, but a three by Bakari Warthen made it a seven point game. A big time three by freshmen Trey Schaneville with 53.3 left gave the Panthers a chance, at 68-65, but the Sailfish would close this one out at the free-throw line. 

For more info: Palm Beach Atlantic @ Florida Tech Box Score 

The Panthers take the show on the road Wednesday night, playing at Rollins at approximately 7:30 p.m.