After a tough opening weekend in Alabama that saw them lose two games, the Florida Tech Panthers came home on Thursday and rolled over the Johnson Suns, 111-71, picking up their first win of the season.
“It was a good effort all around,” said Panthers head coach Billy Mims. I am proud of these guys. It was a tough trip to Alabama, two tough games to start the season, and mentally to lose our leader Derek Murphy, who goes down about five minutes before the opening game, and we had that deer in the headlights look.”
“Tonight, to come back the way we did, he continued. “Still shorthanded, four players out tonight, and to play the way we did, very proud of this team and the progress we’ve made in a short period of time.”
Derek Murphy missed his third straight game and the Panthers were without Jalen Hodges and Mate Papai, all out with injury.
“This team has depth, something we didn’t have a year ago,” Mims said. “I don’t think we’re gonna set the world on fire early, but I really believe as this season goes on, the young depth will get better and better, and this team will get better and better.”
Florida Tech (1-2) had five players in double figures, led by Sesan Russell’s 28 points. Mekhii Noble was good for 21 points on 10-of-12 shooting, while Niall Harris and Runako Ziegler had 14, and 13 respectively. Harris finished with a double-double, pulling down 11 rebounds.
“In 16 minutes, Niall Harris had 14 points and 11 rebounds tonight,” said Mims. “He had six assists and zero turnovers. That’s not bad for a freshman, is it?”
Fellow freshman Andy Francis made his Panthers debut in this one, scoring nine points on 4-of-4 shooting, and pulling down four rebounds.
“Andy’s athletic and Andy plays pretty hard,” said Mims. “It was a good debut for him. I was really, really pleased with the young man.”
This was a runaway for the Panthers almost from the opening tip. They led by 41 points late in the first half, with the Sun’s last lead being 4-3, 1:18 into the game.
Noble dunked to make it 7-4 moments later, and the Panthers were off and running. A three by Valur Valsson sparked a 7-0 run by the Panthers to make it 21-10 halfway through the first half.
The Panthers led 50-30, before Johnson made a five-point run in the last 40 seconds of the half, making it a 15-point halftime lead for the home team.
The Panthers were 17-for-29 from the field in the first half, good for 59 percent. They were 5-of-12 from long distance, and Noble led them with 11 points in the first 20 minutes.
Johnson (2-7) got the first four points of the second half, and then the Panthers offense got rolling again. They went on a 9-0 run and led 59-39 with 16:43 to go. A couple of minutes later, Russell hit a three to make it 66-43 and Antonis Pefanis then drilled two threes on consecutive possessions, and the Panthers widened their lead to 72-43 with 13:36 to go.
The Panthers poured it on from there, getting a three from Russell with 6:05 to go, making it 95-59, starting a seven-point run for him. Francis would get the Panthers over the century mark with a dunk with 4:05 left.
For more info: Johnson @ Florida Tech Box Score
The Panthers are home again Saturday night, as Puerto-Rico Bayamon makes their yearly trip to Melbourne. That game will tip at 7:00 p.m.
Editors note: Billy Mims comments are courtesy of his postgame interview with Jim Mitchell on floridatechsports.com