The Palm Beach Atlantic Sailfish (6-2, 1-1 SSC) scored the last four points of the game at the free-throw line Thursday night, holding on to beat the Florida Tech Panthers 74-69 at the Clemente Center.
Sesan Russell led all scorers with 25 points, and Derek Murphy poured in 17, and Nieja Jordan scored eight and added five rebounds.
“That’s our first loss at home this year,” said Panthers coach Billy Mims. “We were 4-0 in the friendly confines of the Clemente Center. I thought the crowd was good tonight, the cheerleaders were out in full force, and the pep band is the best in the conference, and maybe one of the best in the country.”
That crowd support was a big factor in the Panthers playing well in the first half. After PBA scored the first six points of the game, Florida Tech bounced back scoring seven straight, capped by a Murphy three, giving the Panthers a 10-8 lead.
The two teams would swap the lead a few times, before Jordan and Russell scored in succession to give the Panthers a 27-23 lead with 5:42 left in the first half. A three by Russell broke a 31-31 tie with 2:33 left, and the Panthers went to the locker room with a 37-33 lead, despite 11 turnovers.
“We had a great first half,” said Mims. “We shot fifty percent from the floor, they shot thirty-eight percent. We shot 5-of-11 from behind the arc in the first half. I felt like if it weren’t for turnovers in the first half, we could’ve been up 10-12 points.”
Things took an ugly turn for the Panthers (4-4, 0-2 SSC) in the second half, but that usually happens when the officials decide to involve themselves in what was otherwise a well-played game by both teams. The free-throw disparity in the second half saw PBA get 26 chances from the charity stripe, while Florida Tech had 11.
Of those 26 chances, PBA converted on 18 of them. For the game, they shot 12 more free throws than Florida Tech and made eight more. That led to some frustration both on the court and on the bench for Florida Tech.
Mims was teed up the first time with 15:29 left in the first half, after a very questionable call. With one of the free-throws made on the technical, PBA cut the Panthers lead to 39-38 and took the lead on the next possession, thanks to a three. After the game was tied at 41 with 14:49 to go, another PBA three made it 44-41.
The Sailfish continued to build on that, going up 61-50, before the Panthers would find their footing again.
“We went from four up to 11 down,” said Mims. “We got a little stagnant for a long period of time. We had 20 turnovers in the game and most of those turnovers, in my opinion, were unforced errors. We were trying to make plays that weren’t there and some of those turnovers led to the fouls that got us into foul trouble.”
Florida Tech kept battling, going on a 15-7 run and cutting the deficit to 68-65 with 55 seconds left. It was at that point that the Panthers trapped the PBA shooter in the corner and he appeared to step out of bounds due to that pressure. Despite an official in front of him and one behind him on the baseline, neither of them called it. With the play allowed to continue there was a blatant travel in the same sequence that was not called.
After two free throws made it 70-65, Russell hit two free throws to cut it to three again. On the next Sailfish possession, there was another obvious travel right in front of the Panthers bench. Mims wanted the call, but instead got his second technical, and exited with 42.9 seconds left. Both calls were costly, and both calls were very easy to see. Neither were called, and the Sailfish went on to claim the victory.
There is no ignoring the fact that the Panthers turned the ball over and were hurt by seven missed free throws in a five-point game, but you hate to see obvious missed calls that keep a team from possibly tying or going ahead.
For more info: Palm Beach Atlantic @ Florida Tech Box Score
“This team is going to keep getting better,” said Mims. “I like our talent, I like our depth, and most importantly, I like our never say die attitude. We’re gonna get it going, I promise you that.”
The Panthers will look to pick up their first conference victory on Saturday when they play host to the Lynn fighting Knights at 7:30 p.m.