Header pic: Sesan Russell – Credit: Florida Tech Athletics
Florida Tech opened the 2021-2022 men’s basketball season on Friday, losing an 83-81 decision to Auburn Montgomery in the opening game of the NCAA South Regional Tip Off Challenge in Winter Park, FL.
Sesan Russell led four Panthers in double-figures with 17 points. Mekhii Noble (13), Runako Ziegler (12), and Mate Papai (10). Niall Harris finished with nine. Papai had a 5-for-5 shooting night.
Noble also had 11 rebounds to finish with a double-double in this one.
This game could have and should have had a different outcome but the Panthers shot themselves in the foot going 2-for-19 from three-point range and 15-for-28 from the charity stripe. They shot 45.7 percent from the floor, making 32-of-70 shots.
“Auburn-Montgomery is a good team with size and athleticism and played UAB (Division I) last week to get a good game under their belt,” said Panthers coach Billy Mims in his postgame phone interview.
“I was proud of the team tonight,” he continued. I thought we defended well, rebounded well and competed well. I thought we outplayed them in so many areas and all the intangibles in the game went our way, we just didn’t get enough production from our guards.”
Those intangibles include an 18-8 advantage in points off turnovers, 46-38 in points in the paint, 20-12 on second chance points and 23-12 in bench scoring.
The only two three-pointers on the Panthers side of the ledger came from freshman Sam Grant, who finished with eight points in 10 minutes. Josh Mims, another freshman played against AUM’s Sam Youngblood who had three three-pointers in the first half before Mims came in and shut him down, keeping his scoring down the rest of the way. Youngblood led the Warhawks with 20 points. Auburn-Montgomery had four players in double figures.
Can Kaan Turgut was another freshman that coach Mims was impressed with as “he made no mistakes” when he was out there. Mims and Turgut had a +4 TER during this game meaning the Panthers were four points better than Auburn Montgomery when those guys were on the floor.
The Warhawks led 16-11, 6:20 into the game. They led 20-16 before a Russell hoop tied it up. Grant hit his first three with 9:38 left to tie the game at 25. Russell then completed a three-point play to give the Panthers a 28-25 lead.
This game was back-and-forth throughout tied at 36, 38, 40, and 42 before the Panthers took a 44-42 lead at the half on a Papai basket with 29 seconds left.
The second half produced more of the same with the Panthers holding a slight lead in the early going before a Youngblood three tied the game at 49 with 14:55 left. Baskets by Ziegler and Sean Houpt pushed the Panthers lead to 55-51.
Russell had a dunk and a jumper later in the half to 62-59, before a Harris bucket stretched the lead to five. Grant would hit another three with 6:33 left to push it to 67-63.
Florida Tech would lose the lead with 4:08 left, going down 71-70 and although they were right there the rest of the way, they couldn’t claw all the way back.
For more info: Florida Tech @ AUM Box Score (Winter Park, FL)
The Panthers played 14 players in the first half alone and stayed in the game with a good school out of the Gulf South Conference.
“If you told me we were going to go 2-for-19 and miss 13 free-throws and lose by two points, I would have been amazed,” Mims said. With those numbers it should be a blow out. I think it’s a testament to how well we played.”
Things don’t get easier on Saturday, as the Panthers face Benedict College at 2:00 p.m. to close out the tournament in Winter Park.