Header pic: Niall Harris – Credit: Florida Tech Athletics
The Florida Tech men’s basketball team was on their game Wednesday night but Florida Southern’s late run snatched it away from the Panthers with the Mocs’ winning 81-78 at home in Lakeland.
“I’ve been coaching for 41 years and that might be the most frustrating loss I’ve had,” said Panthers coach Billy Mims. “I thought we did enough to win and deserved to win. I am proud of the coaching staff and I am proud of the guys. I am not going to hang my head, and I hope they don’t.”
Florida Tech (9-8, 3-9 SSC) have now lost six in a row, but they deserved a better fate in this one and had a couple of chances down the stretch.
Sesan Russell missed a three with less than seven seconds left, and Jacob Crockett threw one up with a second on the clock, but neither fell and the Moccasins got off the floor with a huge win.
Much of Mims’ frustration after this game come from the fact that Russell had two threes taken off the board. One came after an illegal screen was called against the Panthers with the shot going down.
A horrible shot clock violation was called against Florida Tech after the clock failed to reset. The Panthers lead 64-62 with 7:53 to go. Mims pleaded his case but the call stood.
“Our entire coaching staff was counting down to Sesan and he got it off with two left,” said Mims. The officials saw the clock still running but thought the clock was mistakenly reset after it was supposed to go off. They took that off the board too, costing Sesan and our team six points. We would have won by three.”
Russell was one of four Panthers in double figures, finishing with 20 points and nine rebounds. Niall Harris led Florida Tech with 23 points. He added 10 rebounds, finishing with his second straight double-double. He had 26 and 10 on Saturday, against Saint Leo.
Runako Ziegler finished with 16 points and seven rebounds, and Mate Papai had 12 points. He fouled out late in the contest.
Harris, Russell, Ziegler, and Sean Houpt all played 40 minutes in this one, contributing to the 25-for-68 (36.8 percent) performance from the field. They struggled from long distance, going 7-for-28 (25 percent), and did well from the charity stripe, going 21-for-25 (84 percent).
Florida Southern (8-12, 5-7 SSC) had five guys in double figures led by E.J. Dambreville and Luke Anderson who each finished with 15.
Dambreville hit the opening three for the Mocs but Ziegler and Russell got consecutive buckets to give the Panthers an early lead. A three by Harris and a jumper by Papai gave the Panthers an 11-8 lead.
A 10-0 run by the Panthers put them up 24-13 with 11:53 left. Russell’s three later in the half made it 29-18 with under nine minutes left in the half. He made another three with 5:21 to go, making it 36-25.
FSC cut the lead to six, 38-32 before the Panthers got it up to 13 late in the half which included a three-shot foul on Ziegler with 1:16 left to make it a 10-point game. They would head to the locker room with a 45-34 lead.
Harris hit a three early in the second half, upping the Panthers’ lead to 52-41 with 17:37 left. Dambreville kept the Mocs in it with a three with 13:39, cutting the Panthers lead to 56-53.
The Mocs kept it close, getting to within one or two, but couldn’t get over the hump. A steal by Harris led to a three by Houpt, giving the Panthers a 62-58 lead. The shot clock violation that Mims referenced happened moments later.
The Mocs had not led since the opening basket of the game, but free throws by Anderson with 5:58 left gave the home team a 67-66 lead. A free throw by Russell gave the Panthers a 68-67 lead, but a three by DeAndre Campbell gave the Mocs a 70-68 lead. The Panthers were in the midst of going 6:15 without a field goal.
Florida Southern was home and at full strength and we led the basketball game for 33 minutes and 23 seconds without Mekhii (Noble),” said Mims. “They led for 4:49 and If the two threes had counted, they wouldn’t have led for four minutes.”
The game went back and forth, being tied at 72 and 74, before another free throw by Russell with 2:18 to go, gave Florida Tech a 75-74 lead.
Jack Casale answered with a three made it 77-75. A free throw by Russell with 18 seconds left made it 79-78, but free throws by Xavier Rhodes made it a three-point spread and the Panthers final two shots were no good,
For more info: Florida Tech @ Florida Southern Box Score
“We had 20 offensive rebounds and they had five,” Mims said. “We were better in a lot of categories tonight. Our strategy was to control the tempo and win the rebounding, and we did that.”
Florida Tech returns home to host Rollins on Saturday, January 29 at around 4:15, following the women’s game.