Many of the issues that plagued the Florida Tech men’s basketball team in their season-opening loss to Barry on Wednesday were improved in Thursday’s rematch at the Clemente Center but Barry was still too much, as they beat the Panthers 77-71.
“What a difference a day makes,” said Panthers coach Billy Mims after the game. “Last night we fought back and didn’t lay down and that carried over to tonight. “I was very proud of these kids because we controlled the tempo and didn’t get into a track meet like we did last night.”
Mekhii Noble earned the first double-double of the 2021 campaign, scoring 20 points on 10-of-11 shooting, and pulling down 14 rebounds. He also added three blocks and two steals.
“Mekhii was the best player on the court tonight,” said Mims. “He was a monster and showed the kind of forward he is going to be over the next two years.”
Sesan Russell hit three three-pointers en route to a 16 point game. Sean Houpt also finished in double figures, finishing with 13 points and five rebounds.
The Panthers struggled shooting the ball in this game, going 29-of-72 (40.3 percent) from the field, including a dismal 5-for-26 (19.2 percent) showing from beyond the arc.
The Buccaneers (2-0) were not much better shooting the ball, going 27-for-66 (40.9 percent) including 8-for-25 (32 percent) from three-point range. The difference in this game was the 15-for-26 effort that Barry had at the free-throw line. They shot more than double the number of free-throws that the Panthers had, going just 8-for-12.
“I was disappointed in that,” said Mims. “Last night they (Barry) were physical and aggressive and we were able to shoot 30 free-throws. Tonight, they didn’t change anything still playing the same aggressive style and we only shot 12 free-throws.”
Barry did have six players in double figures, led by Justinas Marcinkevicius who poured in 16. Jake Kakar finished with 14, While Marcelo Perez and Nick Anderson each had 12. Anderson hit a couple of key threes late in the contest that widened the Barry lead. Amari Haynes finished with 11, and Toru Dean had 10.
The Buccaneers went up 13-6 early on the strength of a 6-0 run that saw the Panthers go 0-for-7 in a three-plus minute span that did not see them get a point. A three by Russell with 9:08 to go in the first half was the first for the Panthers and cut the barry lead to 18-13. The Panthers would get a 6-0 run of their own later in the half, cutting the Bucs lead to 25-21.
With 2:26 to go in the half and Barry up 30-25, Mims got his first technical foul of the season. Barry would make both of those free-throws and two more on the next possession to go up 34-25.
Houpt would answer with two free-throws and on the next possession, he was fouled on a three-pointer and hit all three of the free-throws to make it 34-30. After Noble made it 34-32, Barry got a bucket late and the Panthers were composed coming back down the floor. Elias Martin got the ball and laid it up and in, as the clock expired making it 36-34 at the half.
Noble was already well on his way to his big game, with 12 points and seven rebounds. For the second straight night, the Panthers made just one three-pointer in the first half.
“We played a really good team the last two nights and our perimeter shooting was poor both nights,” said Mims. “We still have three kids on the Covid list and that hurt us. If we had Trey Schaneville, Jacob Crockett, and Darragh O’Sullivan, our three-point shooting would be much better and we only needed a few tonight.”
The second half started as a back-and-forth affair. Barry led 45-41 and a three by Runako Ziegler made it a one-point game. An offensive rebound by Noble led to a big dunk and a 46-45 Florida Tech lead.
Niall Harris and Russell hit consecutive threes for the Panthers and it was 56-53 Panthers with 7:45 left. Free-throws by Ziegler a bit later made it 58-56, but Anderson’s three made it 59-58. Harris gave the Panthers a 60-59 lead with a layup, but Anderson was left open again and drilled a three to make it 62-60. That sparked an 8-0 run for Barry and they led 67-60 with 3:12 left.
A 7-2 run highlighted by a Russell 3-ball made it 69-67 Barry, but Kakar drained a three with 45 seconds left to make it 72-67. The Panthers were forced to foul and Barry pulled away from the free-throw line.
For more info: Barry @ Florida Tech Box Score
The Panthers are scheduled to travel to Tampa for a game on Saturday. Mims said he hopes to have the three players that were out over these first two games back in the lineup, but said he’s not sure how much they will play, as all of them have been out more than two weeks.
Saturday’s game is scheduled to get underway at 2:00 p.m.