Header pic: Runako Ziegler – Credit: Florida Tech Athletics
After a 19-day layoff due to the Christmas break and Covid protocols, the Florida Tech basketball team returned to the court Saturday, hosting the Tampa Spartans. Things did not go well, with the Spartans rolling to a 92-72 Sunshine State Conference victory at the Clemente Center.
Runako Ziegler was the Panthers leading scorer with a game-high 23 points. He went 10-for-20 from the field. Sean Houpt was good for 18 points, while Mekhii Noble had 10 points and nine rebounds.
Florida Tech (9-4, 3-5 SSC) scored the first five points of the game with Houpt getting loose for a layup and following that with a three. Tampa got things going after that, as they answered with a 15-0 run. A three by Johnathan Bryant II closed out an 18-2 run for the Spartans that made it 18-7.
“We got off on the right foot with that 5-0 run,” said Panthers head coach Billy Mims. “The problem is we didn’t defend well tonight and Tampa took advantage.”
Ziegler hit a three to stop the bleeding and would hit a jumper to make it 18-12 with 13-10 to go. After Tampa added to their lead, Ziegler struck again for three, closing the gap to 21-15. After a three by Houpt, Ziegler was at it again, dunking it home to make it a 22-20 game.
Nial Harris would tie things up with two free throws and a basket from Elias Martin gave the Panthers a 24-22 lead. Tampa would tie it up, before Ziegler was good again, giving the home team a 26-24 lead with 8:06 left in the first half. Ameer Bennett would give the Panthers a 28-26 lead with 5:55 left.
Tampa had the answer again, finishing the half with an 18-3 run and leading 44-31.
“Those two runs in the half, 15-0 and 18-3 were the difference,” said Mims. “Tampa is a very good team and we dug a hole we couldn’t get out of.”
Florida Tech went 11-for-31 (35 percent) from the field in the first half, including 4-for-12 (33 percent) from three-point range. Tampa was 16-for-29 (55 percent) overall, including 6-for-14 from beyond the arc.
“They made six threes in the first half and I don’t think one of them was contested,” said Mims. “They had too many good looks.”
The Spartans started the second half with three consecutive threes. Max Jones would hit a shot to put Tampa up 19 before Noble would hit a shot, followed by another Houpt three-ball, cutting it to 55-41 with 15:55 left.
That was as close as Tampa would allow the Panthers to get as they kept their distance, leading the game by no less than 16 the rest of the way.
Jones scored 21 to lead Tampa, who had five players in double figures. They were 33-for-63 from the field as a team, good for 52.4 percent. That included 12-for-22 from long range.
“I thought we battled and fought back in that second half,” said Mims. “They just continued to shoot the three well, (6-for-8) and we didn’t defend it.”
For more info: Tampa @ Florida Tech Box Score
Florida Tech was without leading scorer Sesan Russell again in this game. He has been out with a concussion since the Panthers played Florida Atlantic on December 17. Mims said he is close to returning. He could be back for Wednesday’s 7:30 p.m. game at Barry, but if not, Mims expects him to be ready when the Panthers return home a week from today when they host Lynn.