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Upset-Minded Panthers Take Tampa to Limit

Header pic: Sesan Russell – Credit: Florida Tech Athletics

The Florida Tech men’s basketball team erased a 16-point deficit on Saturday before falling 74-72 in overtime to the Tampa Spartans at Bob Martinez Center.

Sesan Russell (26 points, nine rebounds), and Sean Houpt (22 points seven rebounds) were the only Panthers in double figures. Max Jones led Tampa with 28 points and Jonathan Bryant II finished with 10.

“I thought it was an incredible match-up of Russell and Jones,” said Panthers coach Billy Mims by phone after the game. “A year ago we played them at our place and it was a multiple overtime game that those two had a big hand in. They are two of the best guards not only in SSC but in the country.”

The Panthers (11-12, 5-13 SSC) got themselves into a bit of trouble early when with the game tied at four, the Spartans ran off eight straight points to lead 12-4, 5:33 into the game.

 “It is always a tough journey coming over here so it takes a while to get the bus out of your legs,” said Mims. You sit in traffic and crawl for a long period and that hurt us. The first 10 mins it seemed like we were still on the bus.”

A three by Russell made it 14-11 with 12:49 to go in the half but Tampa answered with another 8-0 run to make it 22-11. Houpt hit a three-ball with eight minutes left in the half, making it 28-20, but the Spartans would keep the momentum and finish the half with a 5-0 spurt and take a 41-27 lead into the halftime break.

“The old saying is it was a tale of two halves said Mims,” This truly was. We played well and shot well and won the second half 41-27.”

The Panthers’ road to a comeback started after Tampa scored the first bucket of the half. Houpt had a layup and a three as part of a 7-0 run that was broken up by a Jones layup with 15:33 left. At that point, the home team still had a 45-34 lead.

Russell and Niall Harris both made layups after a Tampa basket, and Russell would strike again from long distance, closing the gap to 47-43. A three at the other end made it 50-43 for Tampa with 11:01 left. The lead got back to 10, 53-43, and 56-46 with under 10 to go.

 After Russell scored another bucket, Houpt completed a three-point play with 8:03 left to make it 56-51. Houpt would then bang down a three to make it a 56-54 game with 6:42 left. Another Russell basket tied the game at 56 before Houpt completed a 12-0 run and gave the Panthers a 58-56 lead with 5:15 to go in regulation. 

Jones would tie it at 58 before Houpt scored the next three points for the Panthers. A three by Sam Grant made it 64-60 with under three minutes left.

“Grant has been out with an injury and hasn’t played in three weeks,” said Mims. “He hit that big three and had a nice layup to go with seven rebounds. I am pleased and impressed with his performance as a freshman.”

Tampa had one more run left in them and scored eight in a row, six of those from Jones. Russell answered by scoring the final four points in regulation and sending this game to overtime tied at 68.

Grant would get a block with 3:18 left in the extra period and after Runako Ziegler grabbed the ball, he found Grant for the layup Mims spoke of, to put the Panthers up 70-68. 

With the game tied at 72 with 1:46 left, Mims called a timeout and on the way over to the huddle, Russell told Mims to let him go win it. “When a guy with his talent says that, with fire in his eyes, you give him the ball,” Mims said.”

Russell did get the ball, but missed the layup, on what looked like a good drive. No foul was called inside, although it wouldn’t have surprised Mims to see one. Tampa then turned to Jones, who made good on his chance, giving Tampa a 72-70 lead with 0.8 left.

“I can’t say for sure but the way he moved inside it looked to me like he might have traveled,” said Mims. I can’t wait to look at the tape on that.”

For more info: Florida Tech @ Tampa Box Score

“I thought we did a lot of good things and stuck to the game plan,” said Mims. “I got everybody on the bench into the game in the first half and got them minutes in a meaningful game. I am very proud of the young men on this team for continuing to fight and never playing like we are out of a game.”

The Panthers return home to take on Palm Beach Atlantic Wednesday night. The tip is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.