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Panthers Topple Mocs’ in SSC Clash

Header Pic: Sean Houpt – Credit: Florida Tech Athletics

The Florida Tech Panthers (7-1, 2-0 SSC) won their seventh straight game on Wednesday, beating the Florida Southern Moccasins 85-80 in a Sunshine State Conference men’s basketball game at the Clemente Center.

Mekhii Noble had a double-double in every game this season coming into this one and he extended that streak with his 25 points and 14 rebounds against the Mocs’. He also went 5-for-7 from the free-throw line.

Sean Houpt was not far behind, finishing with 24 points, including a 6-for-12 performance from three-point range. Runako Ziegler (16 points), and Sesan Russell (15 points, eight assists) rounded out the double-figure scorers for the Panthers. Mate Papai fouled out late, but he did some work on the boards, coming away with 14 rebounds.

“Mate was the anchor of our defensive effort tonight,” said Panthers coach Billy Mims by phone after the game.

Noble, Ziegler, and Russell all played 40 minutes, as Mims had to shorten his bench with the game being close throughout. 

“We felt like we were gonna have a dominant inside presence in this game,” said Mims. ”I was trying to keep veterans on the floor that know what it takes to win.”

Florida Southern had four players in double figures led by freshman Jadin Booth’s 21. Tarik McKelphin added 20. Jack Casale had 11 first-half points including a 3-for-6 run behind the three-point line. Booth was 4-for-5 from long range in the first half and 1-for-2 in the second.

“We played great defense all night,” said Mims. “We made adjustments in the second half because we were not going to let Booth and Casale beat us and I thought we did a much better job against them in the second half.”

The Panthers got out to a quick 9-0 lead. A three by Russell with 12:57 to go in the half made it 16-7. He would make another one moments later, giving the Panthers a 22-13 lead.

The Moccasins hung around all night and they answered with a 12-3 run to tie the game at 25 with 8:38 left. This was one of nine ties that this game would have. Another three by Russell was answered and the teams went back-and forth with the game being tied at 37 with 1:52 to go. 

Florida Southern would take the lead late, but a four-point run by Noble gave the Panthers a 41-40 lead at the half.

The second half started with the teams trading baskets before  Houpt hit a three that gave the Panthers a 54-43 lead with 13:00 left. An 8-0 run by Southern turned the game in their favor as they took a 61-54 lead with 11:37 left.

Houpt’s three a minute later closed the gap to four and two free throws by Ziegler made it 61-59. The Mocs’ kept the lead until a slam by Ziegler tied the game at 63 with 8:18 left.

The visitors would take the lead on a three by Booth, but the Panthers would take a 67-66 lead on two free throws from Houpt with 6:53 left. He would follow that up with a three-ball, giving the Panthers a 70-66 lead with 6:26 to go. 

The Mocs’ stayed in it but Houpt wasn’t done, hitting another three with 4:25 left to give Tech a 75-70 lead. After Southern cut it to two, the hot hand of Houpt came through again, draining another three with 3:53 left, giving his team a 78-73 lead.

Florida Southern would tie the game at 78 with a basket by Xavier Rhodes with 2:13 left. Noble made a layup to give the Panthers the lead, followed by a hoop from Russell, making it 82-78. After Rhodes hit two free throws to cut the lead to two, Darragh O’Sullivan would knock down a critical free throw, giving the Panthers an 83-80 lead. Houpt would make two more from the charity stripe with 12 seconds left to ice it.

For more info: Florida Southern @ Florida Tech Box Score

Florida Tech was 31-for-71 from the field in this one, good for 43.7 percent. They went 10-for-29 from three point range (34.5 percent), and finished 13-for-18 from the free throw line (72.2 percent).

A key stat from this game and likely the biggest reason for the Panthers victory was their advantage in points in the paint. They dominated that category, 32-20. 

A good shooting night combined with a raucous crowd got the Panthers a huge conference win. Mims did not let the crowd go unnoticed.

“They were into the game tonight. The scholar athletes and student body were small in numbers but loud in voice and influence,” he said. “They were the sixth man tonight and I am going to say, they were as good as any sixth man. I am gonna include Duke’s Cameron indoor. They turned the Clemente Center into a mini Cameron indoor tonight.”

Next up for the Panthers is a date with Rollins on Saturday in another SSC matchup. Coach Mims will visit his best friend in the conference,Tom Klusman who is one of the all-time winningest coaches in the SSC.

“I have known him for 30-plus years,” Mims said. “I would put his zone defense up against the Syracuse zone any day.”

Saturday’s game will tip off around 4:00 p.m., following the women’s game.