The Florida Tech Panthers got back over the .500 mark on Wednesday with a very convincing 87-54 victory over the Tampa Spartans at the Clemente Center.
Derek Murphy continued his impressive season, compiling a double-double with 19 points and 10 rebounds. He led a pack of five Panthers in double figures, including Sesan Russell (17), Runako Ziegler (12), Antonis Pefanis (10), and Jalen Hodges (10). Nieja Jordan had five points and eight rebounds in just 13 minutes.
“I really felt like it was the best team performance we’ve had all season,” said Panthers coach Billy Mims. “Sesan Russell played well, and that’s why they are our 1-2 punch. Lately, we’ve gotten one to play well, but not both. Tonight, we got a chance to see what we could do with both of them playing well, and everybody else playing well around them.”
Florida Tech 9-8, 3-6 SSC) shot 52.4 percent for the game, going 33-for-63 from the field. That included 8-for-21 from three-point range (38.1%), and an impressive 13-of-15 from the free-throw line. The Panthers held a huge advantage in the rebounding category as well, 46-29.
Things got off to a fast start for Florida Tech with threes from Pefanis and Jordan. After Tampa cut the lead to 9-8, the Panthers got a three from Russell that sparked a 16-4 run and made it a 25-12 ballgame. Tampa answered with a seven-point run of their own, cutting it to six.
That’s when Mims called on sharpshooter Trey Schaneville off the bench, and he promptly knocked down a three, making it 30-19. Hodges followed that with a thunderous dunk, getting the lead back to 11. Florida Tech would score 10 of the final 14 points in the first half, giving them a 38-25 lead.
The second half was more of the same, as the Panthers defense clamped down even harder, holding the Spartans to 22 points.
“Great team D tonight,” said Mims. “We held Tampa to 32 percent shooting in the first half, and 37 percent in the second half, and we knew they were gonna have to knock down some threes in the second half to get back in the ballgame, and in the second half they were 14 percent behind the arc.”
Mims gave a lot of credit to Ziegler, who he said has been up and down this year. On Wednesday, he was up.
“I said tonight I’m gonna give you the challenge of shutting down the league’s Player of the Week, Tampa’s best player, Pat Bacon,” said Mims. “Bacon had 40 last week against Embry-Riddle. Ziegler held Bacon to 16 points, and he was six-for-22 shooting. I thought Runako Ziegler did a tremendous job defensively.”
Mims also gave credit to Pefanis, who held Tampa’s second-leading scorer Derrick Felder to six points. Felder had 20 against Embry-Riddle and averages 15 a game.
“Their two leading scorers, who normally combine for 38 points a game, tonight was held to 22 points together.”
Free-throws by Murphy 3:50 into the second half put the Panthers up 45-28. An 8-0 run by the Panthers midway through the half made it 61-39. Pefanis would hit a three with 6:39 to go, making it 66-42. A three by Russell with 5:13 left, made it 71-42 before Tampa hit a three to stop the Panthers run.
Mims started to empty the bench with 3:18 to go, and Mekhii Noble had a block, a couple of rebounds and ran off six straight points for the Panthers. Garrett Ellington got into the act as well, with a layup, giving Florida Tech an 84-54 lead with 31 seconds to go.
For more info: Tampa at Florida Tech Box Score
Career Milestone: The win over Tampa was collegiate win number 301 for Mims in his illustrious career. He got number 300 last Wednesday, a 71-63 win over Eckerd, that saw Derek Murphy score a career-high 44 points.
“All I can say is that it’s never been about me when I look at the number of games I’ve coached, the wins under my belt, to me it’s about the people, it’s always been about the people around me,” Mims said. “A lot of great players and a lot of great assistant coaches around me, great administration to support our program and our efforts, great fans. Coaches win games, but we don’t do it alone. I just want to say thank you to all the people who’ve been a part of each and every one of those wins.”
The Panthers return to action on Wednesday, January 22 at Rollins. “Tom Klusman (Rollins coach) is one of the all-time great coaches in all of NCAA,” said Mims. “Nobody runs zone defense, including Jim Boeheim at Syracuse. He’s famous in Division I right, for that 2-3 zone. I’m gonna tell you what, Tom Klusman is the best zone defense coach in all of college basketball.”
“We know it’s gonna be one of the toughest games of the year for us,” he continued. “A bye couldn’t come at a better time for us, because now we have four or five days and a day off at the weekend to prepare.”
Wednesday’s game will tip at 7:30 p.m. at the Alfond Sports Center in Winter Park.