Panthers Drop Tightly Contested Matchup with Sailfish
MELBOURNE, Fla. – Florida Tech was unable to overcome a 28-11 second-half run by Palm Beach Atlantic Wednesday night and the Panthers received their first home loss of the season 74-69 in Sunshine State Conference action at the Clemente Center.
The Sailfish turned a six-point lead by Tech early in the second half into a double-digit deficit with less than eight minutes remaining. Turnovers and poor shooting at the end then allowed PBA to keep its advantage and hold on for a narrow victory. The loss drops Florida Tech to 0-2 in SSC play while the Sailfish move to 1-1.
Sesan Russell led all players with 25 points on 8-of-14 shooting, to go along with five rebounds, three assists and two blocks. Russell made all six of his free throws in the game as he scored more than 20 points for the seventh time this season. Derek Murphy was the only other Panther to reach double-figures finishing with 17 points, five rebounds and three steals. Nieja Jordan added eight points and five rebounds.
PBA jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead just 1:40 into the game. A three by Russell got the Panthers on the board and ignited a 13-4 run for Tech. Valur Valsson capped the run with a fast break three-pointer to make the score 13-10 with 13:04 left in the half.
The teams exchanged buckets the remainder of the first half. There were two lead changes the rest of the half with the largest margin being four points as the Panthers took a 37–33 lead into the locker room.
Florida Tech shot a good percentage in the first 20 minutes, making 13-of-26 (50%) from the field and 5-of-11 (45.5%) beyond the arc. However, 11 turnovers halted any momentum the Panthers were able to build in the period.
“I thought we had a great first half tonight,” said head coach Billy Mims. “We shot and defended well, limiting them to 38% shooting in the first 20 minutes. We had some sloppy turnovers in the first half that let PBA hang around; otherwise, I think we could have had a larger lead than four points at halftime.”
Tech increased its lead to six points, 39-33, on an outside jumper by Jordan 43 seconds into the second half. However, it was at this point that the Sailfish picked up their play in the game.
An 8-2 run by PBA gave the Sailfish a 41-39 edge with 15:10 remaining. It was their first lead since the 9:11 mark of the first half.
Poor shooting and turnovers by Florida Tech allowed PBA to grow its lead over the next eight minutes of action to 61-50.
“In the second half, we got stagnant for a long period of time and stopped scoring at the rate we did earlier in the game,” Mims stated. “We did not shoot well and had even more turnovers after halftime. They were sloppy turnovers too, some a result of fouls and others were us trying to make a play where there wasn’t one.”
With 4:42 to go in the contest, the Panthers found themselves still facing a double-digit deficit trailing 64-54. Tech began to rally and try to claw its way back into the game.
The Crimson & Gray cut the margin down to one possession, 68-65, on a contested jumper by Murphy with 55 seconds left on the clock.
Foul trouble caught up with the Panthers and the Sailfish were able to grow their lead back to five, 72-67, with 26 seconds remaining.
Russell’s layup made it a three-point game again with 19 seconds to go. However, Tech was called for another foul while trying to trap PBA in the backcourt, allowing the Sailfish to push the margin to five at the charity stripe.
Trailing 74-69 with 14 seconds to go, Florida Tech still had a chance to climb back in it but its final shots were unsuccessful and PBA was able to hold on for its first conference win of the season.
The Panthers finished the game 24-of-54 (44.4%) from the field, including 7-of-23 (30.4%) from three, and made 14-of-21 (66.7%) of their free throws. PBA improved its efficiency in the second half and closed the game shooting 23-of-57 (40.4%) while knocking down 6-of-26 (23.2%) from long range and 22-of-33 (66.7%) at the charity stripe.
The Sailfish outrebounded the Panthers 39-31 in the game, including a 17-11 advantage on the offensive glass. PBA scored 18 points off Tech’s 20 turnovers and boasted a 17-12 edge in fast-break points.
Florida Tech ended the contest with more points in the paint, 28-22, and bench points, 11-6. Both teams finished with 13 second-chance points.
“Despite the loss, we did win in a lot of areas of the ball game,” Mims added. “I’m happy with our team’s effort in the paint and off second-chance opportunities. Our bench even did a great job outscoring theirs in the game.”
Although his team is 0-2 in conference play, with both losses coming by five points in competitive games, he is confident the Panthers will grow from these contests and continue to show improvement as the season goes on.
“We’re going to keep getting better,” said Mims. “We have a lot of young players who have gotten better over our first eight games and they will continue to do so. Our team will keep improving.
“I like this team. I like our talent. I like our depth. Most importantly, I like our ‘never say die’ attitude. We keep doing what we’re doing and we’ll start winning games in this great conference.”
Florida Tech will look to fine-tune some areas over the next few days ahead of its SSC matchup with Lynn on Saturday night at the Clemente Center. Tip-off between the Panthers and Fighting Knights is set for 7:30 p.m.
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