Panthers Valiant Effort Falls Short Against #14 Florida Southern

Sesan Russell’s 17 points and a double-double from Derek Murphy were not enough Thursday, as the Panthers dropped an 86-79 decision to the 14th-ranked Florida Southern Moccasins at the Clemente Center.

Florida Tech shot 37.7 percent (26-for-69) from the floor in this one. That included going 6-for-29 (20.7 percent) from long range. The Mocs went 33-for-78 from the field (42.3 percent), including 6-for-22 (27.3 percent) from beyond the arc.

“We didn’t shoot the ball very well tonight,” said Panthers head coach Billy Mims. “We looked like a team that had been off for eight days, and they did too, but this is our home floor. Everybody’s supposed to shoot the ball better at home.”

Florida Tech (7-6, 1-4 SSC) got 13 points each from Antonis Pefanis and Neija Jordan, while Runako Ziegler finished with 11. Florida Southern had five in double figures as well, led by Jair Rodgers and E.J. Dambreville with 17, while Jaylin Hinton and Brett Hanson each had 16, and Jack Rauch had 15.

This was a pretty even affair for the first 10 minutes. Murphy gave the Panthers a 14-13 lead with 11:01 to go, and Russell then hit a free throw with 10:37 to go, before draining a three-pointer about one minute later to make it 18-13. Murphy’s layup made it 20-15. A jumper by Ziegler gave the Panthers a 24-21 lead with 4:39 to go, but the Mocs’ battled back to tie it at 25 with 3:32 left in the half.

FSC (12-1, 4-1 SSC) got the lead to 29-25 before Pefanis drained a three with 2:19 left. Free throws by Ziegler gave the Panthers a 30-29 lead, but the Mocs’ fought back, ending the half on a 7-2 run, and leading 36-32 at halftime.

“The last three and a half minutes of the first half hurt us,” said Mims. “We went from 30-29 up to 36-32 down. They had a four-point lead at the half, and momentum and they came out of the locker room with that same momentum.”

A three by Pefanis started the second half for the Panthers, but the offense would sputter as FSC reeled off 11 straight points to go up 47-35 with 16:33 to go. Florida Southern was in control for a good chunk of time, getting the lead up to 14, 56-42 with 12:38 to go.

“It never felt like we were down 14, it always felt like we were in striking distance,” Mims said. “We had some poor shot selection and we had some guys that needed to take shots and I thought we got the ball to the wrong people at the wrong time. We just didn’t make good decisions with the basketball.”

A layup by Niall Harris made it 61-53 with just over eight minutes to go before Russell was fouled on a three-point attempt and made all three foul shots, cutting the deficit to five, 61-56. The Mocs gained control moments later and had a 10-point cushion with 7:03 left.

FSC would lead by 11 before the Panthers answered with a 10-2 run that saw the lead dwindle to three after a Pefanis three-ball made it 76-73 with 1:26 to go.

The Panthers got it to three again, 80-77 after a Murphy bucket with 20 seconds left, but that was as close as they would get, as the Mocs closed things out from the free-throw line.

“We gave up too many easy shots down the stretch,” Mims said. “They beat us 48-34 points in the paint and what were their points in the paint, easy layups, and dunks and they had 16 offensive rebounds that led to 16 points. We had 10 offensive rebounds, leading to 10 points. That’s the difference in the game.”

For more info: Florida Southern @ Florida Tech Box Score

“The way we were playing down the stretch, I thought if we could get it to overtime, we could win,” said Mims. “Then 13 (Dambreville) got the breakaway layup and they hit him over the top and we got burned.”

“We played hard enough to win the game, and we were talented enough to win the game,” he continued. “We just weren’t smart enough to win the game.”

Next up for the Panthers is a showdown with the 20th-ranked Embry-Riddle in Daytona. Tipoff is scheduled for 6:00 p.m.

“They were 11-1 going into tonight, and they lost to Barry,” said Mims. “They are shooting the lights out this year. They shoot more threes and make more threes than any other team in the league. We need to do a good job of containing their perimeter firepower.”