Donny Rieber Jr | Sports Lowdown Derek Murphy had 21 points at the break and finished with 34

The Florida Tech Panthers hung with the Florida Southern Moccasins on Wednesday night, before fading late in the second half, and losing 103-92 in Lakeland.

“I thought we played really well,” said Panthers head coach Billy Mims. “They’re a good basketball team at home and we put up 92 points. Offensively, we executed really well but we turned the ball over 17 times.”

Derek Murphy led the Panthers with 34 points on 12-for-28 shooting and 7-of-10 from the line. Sesan Russell continues to make an impact on this team since coming over during winter break. He scored 25 for the Panthers and Antonis Pefanis finished with 13. Nieja Jordan was the Panthers leading rebounder with 10. He fouled out with 17:17 left in the game. 

The Panthers (8-13, 2-11 SSC) shot 29-of-63 (46 percent) overall, including nine of 26 34.6 percent) from three-point range. They struggled from the free-throw line, going 25-for-36 (69.4 percent).

“Missed free throws haunted us,” said Mims. “We missed 11 free throws and lost by 11 points.”

The game started pretty even, with the being tied twice in the first five-plus minutes. It was tied at 15 with 14:47 to go. A three by Jonathan Lawton four and he hit another 36 secondslater to puthis team up 23-16. A four-point run by Murphy made it 23-20. 

The game would be knotted again at 27 with 9:51 left in the half after a Pefanis hoop. The game was tied at 31 and stayed that way for a while, with both teams going cold for 2:06. A three by FSC’s Ben Marello gave the home team the edge. 

Florida Southern (17-4, 10-3 SSC) widened their lead to seven, 49-42 with 1:55 to go and led 55-49 at the horn. 

Murphy finished the half with 21 points. He was 7-for-16 from the field and hit five of his six free throws. 

An 8-0 run by the Panthers early in the second half tied the game at 57. Russell made two free-throws with 17:25 to go, giving the Panthers their first lead in a long while. The Moccasins answered with an 8-0 run, grabbing a 65-59 lead. 

FIT would cut it back to four, only to see FSC go up by nine. A three by Valur Valsson with 13:10 to go, cut the lead to six. Valsson, who sat the bench for the last 18 minutes in the Panthers last game on Saturday, finished with seven points. 

Russell would score again to cut it to four, only to see the Mocs’ go on a 13-2 run, to extend the lead to 84-69. 

The home team went up 14, but the Panthers kept battling and scored five in a row. They continued to cut into the lead, trailing 90-85 with 4:02 to go, but the Mocs would start to run away with it, as the Panthers suffered through a four-minute scoreless drought. 

Darius Wright broke that up with a hoop with 22 seconds left, making it 103-92.

R.J. Coil was still out for this game and Mims said that the Panthers gave up some easy baskets in transition and easy baskets inside, that having Coil probably would have stopped at least some of those.

With each passing day, it seems less and less likely that Coil will play again at Florida Tech. As Mims pointed out, the Panthers have not been fully healthy all season. When you consider the players that have missed time this season, including Lorenzo Hardy, who has not played at all, and others that have missed parts of the season, it does make you wonder where this team might be if they had their full complement of players.

There’s no moral victories at this level, but I’m really proud of the progress this team is making,” said Mims. “Sometimes progress is not about wins and losses. This team doesn’t quit. We were down double-digits again in this game and cut it to five. We are the youngest team in the league, and we have been in the last six games right to the end, even though we only won one.”

For more info: Florida Tech @ Florida Southern Box Score 

The Panthers road trip continues Saturday when they travel to Tampa to take on the Spartans. The game will get underway at approximately 4:00 p.m., following the women’s game.

It’s gonna be another tough game for us,” said Mims. “They beat us pretty good at our place and they are going to be looking for a sweep. We have to better in the areas we struggled in tonight to win this game.”

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