Header pic: Sesan Russell (#25) and Mekhii Noble (#13) – Credit: Florida Tech Athletics
The Florida Tech men’s basketball team rebounded from a tough loss on Friday by beating a very good Benedict team on Saturday, 72-66 as part of the NCAA South Regional Tip Off Challenge in Winter Park, FL.
“I am proud of the guys,” said Panthers coach Billy Mims in his phone interview after the game. “That’s a huge turnaround and today we played a better team. Benedict were 10-1 in the SIAC last year and were picked to win the conference this year by some and finish second by others. They are a tournament team.”
Mekhii Noble led the Panthers with a career-high 23 points and 14 rebounds. It was his second consecutive double-double, as he finished Friday’s game against Auburn Montgomery with 13 points and 11 rebounds.
Sesan Russell had 18 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals, bettering his 17-point performance on Friday.
“Sesan is a warrior and he knew yesterday wasn’t a typical day,” said Mims. “He said at halftime, ‘I’m just gonna play’. “I wanted him to be Sesan Russell and it was a huge night for him against a good team.”
Sean Houpt came back with a big day on Saturday as well, going for 13 points, seven rebounds, three steals and two assists. All this after a six-point output on Friday.
“I think Sesan and Sean knew yesterday’s game was not typical of what they are capable of,” said Mims. “Sean is a great shooter and made some big plays.”
The Panthers (1-1) started well, going up 13-5 in the first 8:20 of the game. Benedict clawed back to tie the game at 13 with 10 minutes to go. They would add on and go up 19-13 before the Panthers got a bucket. Another 8-0 run would push it to 27-15 with 4:46 left in the half. Benedict finished off a 26-4 run and led 31-17.
Florida Tech made a push thanks to a three by Russell and one by,Can Kaan Turgut to get his team to within five, 33-28 at the halftime break.
Houpt made a three-pointer to start the second half making it 33-31. The teams went back-and-forth for a bit with the game eventually being tied at 39. The teams would trade again until a three gave the Tigers a 50-48 lead with 9:24 to go.
Brandon Smith upped the Tigers lead to 58-53 with a three-ball with 6:01 left. Russell answered with a three and Noble hit a free throw and a layup to put the Panthers back in front 59-58 with 4:56 left.
Russell would later hit a shot, draw a foul, and drop the free-throw in to put Florida Tech up 67-63 with 1:01 left. Benedict was forced to foul from there and the Panthers, who missed 13 free throws on Friday, hit five of six in the final stretch Saturday, to wrap up their first victory of the season.
Florida Tech went 19-for-30 from the line on Saturday, good for 63 percent. That was still not where they needed to be, but the difference is they hit some key ones in this game that they couldn’t buy on Friday.
It was a 34 percent shooting day for the Panthers, who were 24-for-70 from the field.
For more info: Florida Tech @ Benedict Box Score
The Panthers will have a week off before opening their home and conference schedule on Saturday, November 20 at 4:00 p.m. against Saint Leo.
“Saint Leo ended our season last year in semis of SSC tournament,” said Mims. “Sesan had a broken nose, and sprained ankle and was definitely not 100 percent.”
“We had to travel after a double-OT win at home and had key personnel injured, ” Mims continued. “We lost a game we were capable of winning and I am ecstatic to be able to start our conference season against them. Our guys have had November 20th marked on the calendar for sure.”