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Bucs Tame Panthers in Tight Contest

Donny Rieber Jr | Sports Lowdown Derek Murphy and Sesan Russell (#25)

Derek Murphy scored a career-high 36 points and pulled down nine rebounds but unfortunately, the Panthers were unable to overcome a 23-5 second half run by Barry on Saturday, eventually falling 78-76 at the Clemente Center. 

“We were the best team tonight,” said Panthers coach Billy Mims. “Not to take anything away from Barry and the effort they made in the second half, but we were the better basketball team. I think we shot ourselves in the foot a few times, and helped Barry win this game.” 

It was a frustrating night for the Panthers, who held a 37-29 lead at the half, only to see it disappear. They had to battle back for much of the final 20 minutes, cutting the deficit to one, after being down as many as 12, with 5:09 left in the game. 

Sesan Russell continued to impress, just four games into his Florida Tech career. He was the only other Panther in double figures, finishing with 19. He also had seven rebounds, five assists, and four steals. 

Florida Tech (8-12, 2-10 SSC) got off to a great start, with Trey Schaneville hitting a three to put them up 9-4. Murphy then hit two consecutive baskets and a three by Russell made it 18-8, completing a 12-4 run. 

Another three from Schaneville put the Panthers up 21-10 with 8:41 to go in the half. The Panthers got the lead upto 11 with a layup by Russell with 5:23 to go. Barry cut it to six before Murphy drained a three with 4:04 to go, making it 30-21. 

Barry (12-8) again cut it to four, but Murphy and Russell combined to give the Panthers a 37-29 lead. It was a half a second from being an 11 point lead, as Murphy let one go from just inside half court as the buzzer sounded. The shot went in, but it was just a tick late and the Panthers would have to settle for the eight-point lead at the break. 

The Panthers were without a good offensive weapon when Valur Valsson foundhimself on the bench with 18:10 to go and the Panthers up 40-34. After Mims subbed Valsson out of the game, there was an exchange between player and coach, and as you might imagine, the end result wasn’t good for Valsson. He sat at the end of the bench for the duration of the game. 

“He made a mistake and I’m not gonna be mad at the mistake, but he blamed a teammate for his mistake and that’s a negative attitude I’m not gonna stand for,” said Mims. “I know I’m gonna be second-guessed by a lot of people for that, but I’m trying to teach these kids life lessons that are going to be bigger than winning one basketball game.” 

That was just the beginning of the Panthers problems, as they were battling the officials as well during that opening stretch of the second half. It is never good to blame officials, but in this case, there were questionable calls all over the floor, including a blocking foul on Nieja Jordan with 15:47 left that was compounded when he picked up a technical. 

The reason things got to that point was that the officials were not in control of the situation and things were real physical. Barry was allowed to do what they wanted, while Florida Tech was being called for seemingly everything. 

When your involved in a two-point game, those calls are critical, and the Panthers were on the wrong side of a lot of them for the first 10 minutes or so of the second half. 

With that run by the Bucks, they went from down eight to up seven, leading 52-45 with 10:32 left. The Panthers did well to stay in it, closing the gap to 53-49 and 56-51, but Barry got it up to 12 with 6:53 to go, leading 63-51. 

The Panthers chipped away and got it down to six with a layup by Russell, with 3:42 to go. Barry would go up 74-66 with 1:34 to go, but the Panthers battled back, with Murphy completing a three point play to make it 74-71 with 55 seconds to play. 

The Bucs made free throws down the stretch and led 78-75 with 3.5 secinds left. Chris Cummings inbounded the ball to Russell who was clearly fouled in the act of heaving toward the basket at the other end. It should have been three free throws, but instead, Russell was given two and made one. 

With that, the Panthers saw their chance go down the drain 

For more info: Barry @ Florida Tech Box Score  

Injury update: R.J. Coil missed Saturday’s game as he continues to recover from what Mims called a “very serious” shoulder injury. There is no timetable for his return, and Mims would not speculate on whether he would play again this season. 

“He is one of the finest people I’ve ever coached,” said Mims. “He epitomizes what I love in young people playing this great game.” 

The Panthers will head to Lakeland Florida Wednesday, to take on the Florida Southern Moccasins. Game time is set for 7:30 p.m.