After a long wait that included seven postponements, the Florida Tech men’s basketball team finally suited up for the first time in 2021 on Wednesday, losing to the Barry Buccaneers 102-83 at Miami Shores.
“This was the first time in my 40 year coaching career that I ran 67 practices before we played a game,” said Panthers coach Billy Mims after the game. “It’s been frustrating because we’ve only had one live practice in 14 days, but it was good to see this team finally get out and play a game.”
The Panthers were without three players due to Covid protocol but had guys step up and show what the future of Florida Tech basketball would look like.
“I’ve said all along that this is a free season for all these kids, it doesn’t count against anybody,” said Mims. “The most important thing is playing. We understand the system and understand the principles, we just need game action.”
While the score was a bit lopsided for much of the game and stayed that way, the Panthers had four guys in double figures, led by Sesan Russell who went 10-of-23 from the field and 4-for-6 at the line, for a game-high 25 points. Runako Ziegler finished with 19, while newcomer Sean Houpt, a sophomore had 17. Houpt had two of the Panthers four three-pointers in the game. Mekhii Noble finished with 12.
Barry (1-0) had five guys in double figures, led by Marcelo Perez who was 7-for-11 from the field and finished with 19 points. Justinas Marcinkevicius from Lithuania had a double-double, 18 points, and 13 rebounds. Division I transfer Amari Haynes had 17 points and 11 rebounds in 19 minutes.
Florida Tech (0-1) only led twice in this game, 3:25 in when Russell’s layup made it 6-4 and 34 seconds later when Russell scored to make it 8-6. Barry started to pull away when Nick Anderson and Marcelo Perez hit back-to-back threes to make it 26-14 with 11:18 to go in the half.
A 7-0 run made it 35-19 before Houpt got a three-point play with 7:42 to go, and the Bucks leading 35-21. Back-to-back threes by Barry were answered by one from Houpt, the first of the game for Florida Tech and it was 41-25.
Unfortunately, the Panthers struggled from the field the rest of the way, only getting a couple of free-throws. They did not hit a field goal in the final 4:56 of the first half and they were down 56-34 at the break.
The Panthers were 13-for-35 in that first half, shooting 37 percent. They were only 1-for-11 behind the arc.
“The pace they were playing was aggressive and they came out fast and furious,” said Mims of Barry. “That along with our inability to make shots put us in a hole in that first half.”
Things got better in the second half from the Panthers, as they outscored the Bucs 49-46, helped by a 50 percent shooting from the floor (17-of-34). They also found a bit of a stroke from three-point land, going 3-for-8.
“We did a much better job in the second half,” Mims said. “We slowed their transition a bit and shot the ball much better. Our kids never quit and I had one of them come to me after the game and say, ‘Coach, we will never lose like that again,’ Mims said.”
The Panthers were down by 31 with 4:51 left in the game, but a 14-2 run helped them put a dent in that. It all started with a Houpt three-ball that sparked a 9-0 run. Elias Martin had a hoop and Russell had consecutive layups during that spurt.
The visitors would keep the pressure on, scoring the final eight points of the game, but they just ran out of time.
For more info: Florida Tech @ Barry Box Score
“We learned a lot of things tonight and you can’t replace game experience,” said Mims. “We will go right back at them on our home floor tomorrow and hopefully we can learn from this one and get better in the areas we struggled in tonight.”
Thursday’s game between these two teams will be played at the Clemente Center and is scheduled to get underway at 5:00 p.m.
“It took 363 to play our first game and now we play three in four days, with two of those on the road,” said Mims.