Header pic: Josh Mims – Credit: Florida Tech Athletics
The Florida Tech Panthers led for 30:53 on Saturday but Rollins led when it mattered, outlasting the Panthers 67-65 at the Clemente Center. This was the seventh straight loss for the Panthers, who are now 9-9 overall and 3-10 in the conference.
“I was looking up and down the stat sheet and we outplayed them in so many aspects,” said Panthers coach Billy Mims by phone after the game. “I felt like as coaches we had the right game plan. This is the second game in a row that we have led for more than thirty minutes and lost. I thought we deserved this one.”
Tech won many of the intangibles and drained 10 threes, compared to six for the Tars. Florida Tech outrebounded them 36-31, won the second chance points 13-12, and had five blocks to Rollins two.
Sean Houpt led the Panthers with 17 points, going 6-for-12 from the field. That included 5-for-10 from three-point range. Sesan Russell had 14 points, Niall Harris finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds, giving him his third straight double-double. He had five assists, three blocks, and two assists.
“Niall played well again tonight,” said Mims. We have had him at the power forward spot and he filled up the stats sheet for us.”
Mate Papai had a double-double as well, scoring 12 points and pulling down 11 rebounds. He was 5-for-8 from the floor and had two assists just for good measure.
“Mate had a plus/minus of eight points,” said Mims. “In the three minutes he wasn’t on the floor they were 10 points better than us. It’s just one of those things.”
Josh Mims started in place of Runako Ziegler, who warmed up but was unable to play. Add that to still missing Mekhii Noble, and the Panthers were down two key starters.
“We’ve been the walking wounded since Christmas but this team hasn’t quit,” said Mims. To get back to winning you have to compete and I am proud of how hard we competed.”
Mims finished with seven points, three rebounds, and three assists. Both of her field goals were threes.
“Josh is a true freshman I went with him because he’s played smart basketball and hasn’t played like a freshman,” said Mims. “He’s played like a vet at times, hasn’t been shaky and he trusts our system.”
As a team, the Panthers were 25-for-56 (44.6 percent) from the floor and 10-for-31 (33.2 percent) from beyond the arc. They were 5-for-10 from the charity stripe. Rollins was 25-for-61 (41 percent), 6-for-22 (27.3 percent), and 11-for-11 on free throws. Their success from the line was the difference in this one.
Things got off to a good start for Florida Tech, with Houpt knocking down two threes that bookended baskets from Harris and Papai and gave the Panthers a 10-2 lead. Rollins made it 16-12, but Papai hit a jumper and Houpt got another three to make it 21-12.
Baskets by Harris and Papai put the home team up 27-15 with 6:10 left. Mims hit a three with 4:55 left, making it 31-18. Russell hit one of his own with 4:01 to go, making it 34-21. Unfortunately for Florida Tech, the defense abandoned them and Rollins scored nine straight points to end the half, cutting the lead to 36-33 at the half.
Russell hit a jumper to start the second half and Houpt backed that up with another three to go up 41-33. They would stretch it to 45-33 with 17 minutes left before Rollins stepped on the gas pedal again.
They went on a 25-7 run, including a 13-0 stretch, and just like that, the visitors were up 58-52. Russell’s three with 5:38 to go, making it a three-point game. Russell did it again to cut Rollins lead to 61-60 with 3:11 left.
The two teams continued to score and it remained a one-point game when Papai got a layup to drop with 2:05 left, making it 65-64 Rollins with 35 seconds left. Rollins took the shot clock all the way down on the next possession before Brooks Cluxton got one to go and put the Tars up 67-64 with 6.4 seconds left. Cluxton finished with eight points, no two bigger than those.
Rollins (12-9, 7-6 SSC) had a foul to give and they used it. They then fouled Russell again to put him at the line and keep the Panthers from trying to knock down the tying three. It worked, as Russell hot one free throw and saw Rollins come down with the final rebound.
For more info: Rollins @ Florida Tech Box Score
There was a lot to like in the effort tonight for the Panthers and Mims is hopeful that the trend continues.
“We are starting to get the chemistry and confidence back that we had at the beginning of the season,” he said. “I feel that if we can ever get back to full strength, we can go on a bit of a run here to finish the season.”
The Panthers are on the road at Embry-Riddle on Wednesday, February 2. The game will get underway shortly after 7:30, following the women’s game.