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Panthers Pounce on Wildcats for Second Straight Win

Donny Rieber Jr | Sports Lowdown

The Florida Tech Panthers picked up their second consecutive home win on Saturday, beating the Johnson & Wales Wildcats 90-68. This after an 89-71 win over Division III LaGrange on Friday.

“Coach and I were talking about it and he mentioned after the game, what a difference a day makes,” said Panthers assistant coach Joey James. “We just thought our energy was contagious and it was there, and we shot it like crazy. We would love to bottle that up and make sure it’s there for every game.”

Derek Murphy, who made his triumphant return to the Panthers lineup on Friday, scoring 18 points, backed that up Saturday with a game-high 27. He was 6-for-6 from the field, including 4-for-4 from three-point range in the first half.

“Yesterday he (Murphy) was excited to get back and we were excited to have him back, so he was kinda pressing a little bit,” said Panthers assistant coach Joey James. “Finally, today he took a lot of great shots and got in some spots inside and out where he could score. There’s a reason why he’s an All-American, All-Conference player… very talented.”

Sesan Russell kept pace with Murphy for much of the day, as he finished with 22 points on 8-of-11 shooting, including 6-of-8 on threes. He also grabbed six rebounds and dished out three assists.

Johnson & Wales did get out to an early 9-5 lead and extended it to 12-7 before Murphy and Russell hit back-to-back threes gave the Panthers the lead. A three by Johnson & Wales was answered by Murphy, to put his team up 16-15 with 6:02 gone by. The two would combine again to hit triples with a Jalen Hodges hoop sandwiched in, giving the Panthers a 24-18 lead. Russell would end a 13-0 run with back-to-back long-range baskets, making it 37-18.

Valur Valsson hit the final three of the first half with 59 seconds left, giving the Panthers a 52-31 lead at the break. Valsson would distribute the ball well all night, finishing with 12 assists.

The Panthers were 11-of-13 from behind the arc at one point in the first half, and they finished 12-of-17 in the first 20 minutes. They shot 64.5 percent from the field, going 20-of-31. Johnson & Wales hit just 11 shots in the first half, nine of those were from three-point range.

The dynamic duo of Murphy and Russell picked up right where they left off to start the second half, as each of them hit a three. The Russell shot made it 58-31, and the Panthers cruised from there.

With 6:03 to go, coach Billy Mims emptied his bench for the final time, as he used 15 players in this game.

“If coach could do it, he’d play every one of these kids, it just doesn’t always work that way,” said James. “They’re a great group of guys and they work hard. I thought our bench did pretty good today, we outscored them 33-28, and of the 90 points we scored 33 came off our bench, so the productivity was there.”

Florida Tech got the lead up to 29 a couple of times early in the second half and led by 28 with 5:42 to go.

Mate Papai was the third Panther in double figures Saturday, scoring 10 points. He added eight rebounds as well.

The Panthers hot shooting subsided a bit in the second half, as they shot 50 percent (14-of-28). They were 34-for-59 for the game, a 57.6 percent clip. That included 15-for-27 from three-point range, good for 55.6 percent.

For more info: Johnson & Wales @ Florida Tech Box Score

Joey James was hired by coach Mims before the Thanksgiving holiday. Some may remember seeing Joey on the opposing sideline last year with Concordia-St. Paul, during the Panthers Thanksgiving Tournament. The two teams squared off in the championship game of that tournament, with Florida Tech taking home the trophy. Now James has decided to come to Melbourne permanently, to be closer to family.

“I love working with coach Mims, he’s been fantastic for me, and I love being around the guys, it’s a really good group,” James said. “We gotta continue to improve and get better in some areas and we will, but this is a beautiful university and the campus is amazing, and I’m just excited to be here.”

“It’s a high academic institution and I know we can recruit the heck out of this place, he continued. “Those kids that are recruited will make a difference for us.”

The Panthers get back into Sunshine State Conference play on Wednesday, with a home game against Palm Beach Atlantic. The tip is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.