The Florida Tech men’s basketball team cut a 23-point deficit to eight on Saturday, but in the end, the 10th-ranked Nova Southeastern Sharks proved to be too much, beating the Panthers 95-81 at the Clemente Center.
“I think they’re the deepest team in our league because they play 10 guys night in and night out,” said Panthers coach Billy Mims in his postgame interview on floridatechsports.com. “They play hard the entire game they’re pressing and trapping and getting up on you the entire ballgame.”
Sesan Russell who missed the last two games due to injury, returned Saturday to lead the Panthers in scoring. He finished with a game-high 28 points on 11-of-13 shooting including 2-for-3 from three-point range, and 4-for-5 from the free-throw line. Derek Murphy and Jalen Hodges scored 16 apiece and Runako Ziegler finished with 14.
The Panthers (11-16, 5-14 SSC) were 28-for-55 from the field, good for 50.9 percent. They went 5-for-12 (41.7 percent) from beyond the arc and hit 20 of their 25 free throws (80 percent).
The Sharks (20-4, 13-4 SSC) had five scorers in double figures, led by Mark Matthews 23 points, and 22 from Mikkel Kolstad. Nova took control of this one early, hitting 25 of their 35 first-half field goals. The Panthers made 13 of their 28.
“They shot 71 percent in the first half, they shot 46 in the second half,” said Mims. “I just thought we had a great effort in the second half. It’s really hard to dig yourself that kind of hole, even at home.”
Valur Valsson hit the Panthers first three of the night with 18:46 to go, cutting the Sharks lead to 4-3. Two threes from Nova gave them a 12-5 lead. The Panthers got as close as six with 11:28 to go when Murphy’s jumper went down. A three by Russell a bit later made it 28-22.
The Sharks then reeled off 13 straight making it 41-22. A dunk by Ziegler stopped the run and a three from Murphy followed to make it 43-27. Nova got themselves into a bit of foul trouble, and the Panthers’ next 10 points came from the charity stripe. They were still down 52-37. They would go to the locker room trailing 61-41.
An 8-0 run by Florida Tech got it to 15, 65-50 with 16:42 left. A bit of a scoring lull followed before the teams traded baskets for a bit, with NSU leading 76-60. A three by Russell with 7:24 left got the Panthers to within 11, 80-69.
A free throw by Hodges made it 84-76 with 4:44 left, but a three by Kolstad as part of a 6-0 spurt, got it back to 12, 88-76. The Sharks took it from there, winning by 14.
“When we cut it to eight, I thought we made four bad decisions in a row,” said Mims. “And all of a sudden instead of being down eight with a chance to cut it to five, we took a bad shot and all of a sudden it went from eight to 16 again.”
For more info: Nova Southeastern @ Florida Tech Box Score
Mims acknowledged that he played the entire second half with the same lineup and said they played well.
“We won the second half 40-34, we scored 41 points in the first half and scored 50 in the second,” he said. “The difference was, in the second half we played defense.
If we had defended them the same way in the first half and were able to get out on their shooters, this may have been a different story tonight.”
The Panthers will finish their season at home Wednesday against Rollins on Senior Night. Murphy and Valsson will lead a talented bunch of five seniors who will be honored before the game. Antonis Pefanis, Harry Craik, and Phil Bernhard round out the Panthers contingent that will be the focus of pregame festivities. Get there early, so you don’t miss it. Things will get underway just prior to the 7:30 start.