Header pic: Sesan Russell – Credit: Florida Tech Athletics – Grant Butler
The Florida Tech men’s basketball team renewed their friendly rivalry with Puerto-Rico-Bayamon on Tuesday, using a 19-0 run to end the game, winning 73-47 at the Clemente Center.
This is on the heels of Saturday’s Sunshine State Conference opener against Saint Leo that saw the Panthers reel off 14 straight points to close out that contest.
“I thought we defended well, we just didn’t shoot the ball well,” said Panthers coach Billy Mims by phone after Tuesday’s game. “We were sloppy with the ball, and I am not sure why. We are due for a breakout game and I think it is coming.”
Sesan Russell finished with 18 points to lead the Panthers, while Mekhii Noble poured in 12 to go along with 16 rebounds. That is Noble’s fourth double-double in four games for the Panthers. He had six points and six rebounds at the half.
“Mekhii gave us what we needed at the end,” Mims said. “He is a beast on the boards and his defensive presence is big for us.”
This was a tale of two halves for the Panthers, who led 34-26 at the half, shooting 37.5 percent (12-of-32). They were only 3-for-14 from three-point range (21.4 percent), and 7-for-14 from the free-throw line, good for 50 percent.
Puerto Rico-Bayamon (0-1) was led by Bryan Gonzalez who scored 19 points, including 13 in the first half.
The first half was not pretty for either team. Noble, Sean Houpt, and Russell each had six points to lead the home team. Houpt started the game with a three-pointer, but points were tough to come by for both squads after that.
The teams would stay close for the first eight minutes with the Vaqueros tying the game at 12 and then taking the lead 14-12 with 12:09 left. They would lead 18-17 with 8:58 to go. With the game tied at 21 after a three by Sebastian Santiago, Russell answered to give the Panthers a 24-21 lead with 5:39 to go.
That sparked a 6-0 run for the Panthers and they led 27-21 with 4:04 left. They would finish the half on another 6-0 run and go to the locker room up 34-26.
Puerto Rico-Bayamon started the second half with the gas pedal to the floor, reeling off eight straight points and tying things at 34. Mims had seen enough and subbed all five starters out of the game.
“They scored eight points in the first three minutes of that second half,” said Mims. “They only scored 13 points the rest of the way.”
“We struggled to get separation on the first half and the starters came out flat to start the second half,” Mims continued. “This is the deepest team I have had here and we could easily have three separate teams. Five starters, five subs, and five subs for them.”
The bench scoring was in favor of the Panthers 28-12.
Niall Harris was one of the subs that were called on and he came up with four straight points to put the Panthers up 38-36. Elias Martin then completed a three-point play to make it 41-36. The lead was 50-40 Panthers after a three by Sam Grant.
Not long after Harris scored those points off the bench, he re-aggravated a leg injury that happened in the first game of the season.
“I felt so bad for Niall,” Mims said. “We had been bringing him back slowly and I wasn’t even going to use him until the Thanksgiving Tournament, but when they went on that 8-0 run I thought we needed him.”
Gonzalez would get the Vaqueros as close as 54-47 with 6:10 to go in the ballgame. That would be the last time that Puerto Rico would find the bottom of the bucket in this game.
Josh Mims, who finished with seven points, hit a three with 3:54 to go, putting his team up 65-47, points 9. 10, and 11 of that end of the game run. Russell would finish things off with a personal 8-0 run including a three-ball with 27 seconds left, accounting for Florida Tech’s final points of the night.
“We save some gas in the tank and put the dagger in late,” said Mims.
For more info: Puerto Rico-Bayamon @ Florida Tech Box Score
Florida Tech shot 40.6 percent for the game (28-for-69). They shot 6-for-28 (21.4 percent) from distance, going 3-for-14 in both halves. They finished 11-for-20 at the free-throw line, good for 55 percent).
The Vaqueros were 20-for-71 from the field (28.2 percent) and were 2-for-20 from behind the arc. They did go 5-for-9 (55.6 percent) from the line.
Florida Tech held a decisive advantage on the boards, 57-40, and points in the paint 42-28.
There won’t be much time to celebrate this victory with the Panthers hosting Johnson University tomorrow (Wednesday), at 4:00 p.m.
“They are a well-coached team,” Mims said of Johnson. “I think they’re gonna play hard press us, and trap us and they will look to cause some turnovers. It should be a good game.”