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Panthers Upend Spartans in Double-OT

Above photo of Mekhii Noble’s disallowed putback in the game against Tampa on Tuesday – Still photo taken from game video

The Florida Tech Panthers watched a 12-point lead evaporate in the fourth quarter on Tuesday at the Clemente Center, and had to get up off the deck a couple of different times to squeak out a 90-84 double-overtime victory over the Tampa Spartans in the Sunshine State Conference Quarterfinals.

There is a strong argument to be made that the game shouldn’t have even gotten to overtime thanks to a buzzer-beater by Mekhii Noble that was disallowed by the officials, but thankfully for the Florida Tech coaches and team it did not affect the final result.

“You have to love the effort and performance,” said Panthers coach Billy Mims. “I really felt like everything went Tampa’s way in the last five minutes and we just couldn’t catch a break. These kids kept fighting and didn’t give up.”

According to Jerry Durney in the Florida Tech Sports Information Department, the last three times the men have hosted a conference tournament game (2008, 2012, 2021), they’ve all gone at least two overtimes.

Fresh off his second consecutive SSC Player of the Week honor, Sesan Russell led the Panthers with 35 points on 10-of-20 shooting. He was 6-for-12 from three-point range and 9-for-10 from the free-throw line. He also had seven rebounds.

Niall Harris was good for 21 points and 11 rebounds, including a 10-for-14 performance from the free-throw line. He scored the final four points of the game from the charity stripe. Sean Houpt finished with 12 points and seven rebounds.

Trey Schaneville finished with nine points including 3-of-7 from three-point range. He also came up with four rebounds, including a couple of big ones in crunch time.

“Sesan and Trey were the only two guys that shot it well,” said Mims. “The other guys gave us big plays in big moments of the game.”

Tampa freshman Max Jones led his squad with 39 points. He was 11-for-23 from the field and 13-for-16 from the free-throw line. He also pulled down seven rebounds.

“It was great to see two of the best players in the league go head-to-head,” said Mims. “Max Jones and Sesan were big tonight. For my money, Sesan is the player of the year in the Sunshine State Conference and Jones is the rookie of the year.”

This was a game of runs and scoring droughts and Tampa went on a 7-0 run to take an 11-8 lead. A 5-0 run by Russell gave the Panthers a 13-11 lead. Harris would hit a jumper and Houpt would nail a three to make it 18-11. Things went back-and-forth for a bit with the Panthers leading 28-20 with 3:50 to go.

Tampa got to within three, 28-25 before the Panthers opened the lead up again, holding a 32-26 advantage at the half.

Tampa closed the gap to 36-32 early in the second half before the Panthers reeled off six straight points and grabbed a 57-47 lead with just under 16 minutes remaining. Consecutive threes by Tampa got it down to four, and later in the sequence, Shaneville knocked down a three to make it 51-46 with less than 10 minutes left in regulation.

Threes by Harris and Schaneville got the lead back to 10, 57-47 with 7:11 left. Harris would hit two free-throws to make it 62-50 with 5:09 left. He would get a bucket to make it 64-52 with 3:31 left.

That would be the last basket on the Florida Tech side of the ledger, as they watched Tampa go on a 12-0 run including a three by Jones with 11 seconds left to tie the game at 64. Russell would bring the ball up for Tech and he was long on a three attempt with three seconds left. The ball was rebounded by Noble and he tipped it in just before the buzzer sounded. Much to the chagrin of Mims, the referees waved it off and sent the game to overtime.

“It looked from my perspective like it went in,” said Mims. “I was animated and I was upset that the emotion of a shot like that was taken away from us.”

“That should be a reviewable play,” he continued. “Unfortunately, under the current guidelines, we just don’t have that capability.”

Tampa got out to a 75-71 lead with 1:57 left in the first overtime. A free-throw and a dunk by Noble followed a free throw by Russell, trying it at 75. A Tampa dunk was answered by Russell at the free-throw line, and the game was tied at 77 and headed to a second overtime.

Derrick Felder’s free-throw with 3:25 left gave Tampa an 82-79 lead but Schaneville’s three with 2:58 left tied things up again. Russell followed that with a three-point play before Tampa made it 85-84. That was as close as Tampa would get as the Panthers closed this one out from the free-throw line.

For more info: Tampa @ Florida Tech Box Score

With the win, Florida Tech moves on to the conference semifinals at Saint Leo on Thursday.

“This is going to be a matchup of the hottest teams in the league right now,” said Mims. “We have won four in a row and they have won five. They are a good team and they are very well-coached. Our guys will be ready to play.”