Eastern Florida Earns National Tournament Berth
By Mark DeCotis, Eastern Florida // March 7, 2015
ranked second in Florida, sixth nationally
BREVARD COUNTY, FLORIDA – Sitting on the floor in his team’s locker room Eastern Florida men’s basketball coach Jeremy Shulman was drained but overjoyed.
The victory was Eastern Florida’s eighth straight, improved its record to 29-3 and advanced it to the tournament championship game for the second time in three seasons.
The Titans will play Panhandle Conference champion Northwest State College at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the College of Central Florida in Ocala.
The game will be streamed live here.
The victory also assured Eastern Florida of a trip to the NJCAA Division I National Championship in Hutchinson, Kansas that begins March 16.
Thus a victory providing that many spoils was worth fighting for and Eastern Florida did just that.
Just like in Thursday’s heart-stopping 70-67 quarterfinal victory over Pensacola State, Eastern Florida built a big fist-half lead, Friday’s being 19 points, 31-12 with 8 minutes and 10 seconds to play in the first half.
And just like on Thursday Eastern Florida let its opponent back in the game.
St. Petersburg closed the half on a 20-12 run to trail 43-32 at the break.
Eastern Florida came out strong to start the second half, building a 48-34 lead with 17:28 to play.
But things began unraveling and eight minutes later things were knotted at 55-55.
St. Petersburg held a 66-60 lead with six minutes to go but the Titans chipped away.
Sophomore Demetrius McReynolds, Thursday’s game-winning three-point shot hero scored five straight points, including a three-pointer, to make it 66-65 with five minutes remaining.
But St. Petersburg stepped on the gas for a 75-69 lead with 2:16 to play and things looked dire for Eastern Florida.
But McReynolds sank a three-pointer and sophomore Conference Player of the Year Kyle Meyer rammed home a slam and suddenly it was 75-74.
Then things got really crazy amid overbearing tension.
St. Petersburg lost the ball out of bounds with 1:09 to play and 22 seconds later McReynolds drained a three-pointer from the left corner for a 77-75 Eastern Florida lead with 47 seconds to go.
St. Petersburg tied it on two free throws with 31.5 to play and Eastern Florida despite possessing the ball to the end could not score, setting up the overtime.
ABOVE VIDEO: Watch the replay of the St. Petersburg and Eastern Florida State game.
As it turned out Eastern Florida had Suncoast Conference champion St. Petersburg (25-6) right where it wanted it.
Sophomore Payton Hulsey opened the scoring right off the tip with a three-point play and Meyer sank two free throws – he would add six more points in overtime – and the score was 82-77.
The closest St. Petersburg got from there was 82-80 and then 88-85 before freshman Daishon Smith sank four free throws for the final margin.
Smith said he felt no pressure.
“We work on that everyday,” Smith said.
“We shoot 20 a day. I knew those were going in.”
Eastern Florida converted 13 of 18 free throws while St. Petersburg was 18-for-27.
Once again it was a tough performance by a tough team in a tough situation.
“It’s chemistry,” Smith said.
“We’re with each other every day, on the court, off the court.”
Shulman, aside from being absolutely thrilled with earning the national tournament bid, something he has stressed as a goal throughout his five seasons at the helm, had praise for his entire team.
“We’re going to Kansas,” Shulman said.
“I am so proud of these guys. Toughest team I’ve ever coached.
“A tough family is what we have. We have a family here. Our guys just found a way. This time of year you just find a way. You make tough plays.”
McReynolds led Eastern Florida with 21 points. Meyer had a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds as Eastern Florida won the rebound battle 53-37.
Eastern Florida was 9-for-21 from the three-point line while St. Petersburg was 11-for-32.
Justin Satchell led St. Petersburg with 25 points.
“We got the win, we’re going to Kansas,” Meyer said.
“We picked it up defensively,” he added about the overtime.
“We got a real quick three, some good stops. That’s what got us the win.”
Eastern Florida is ranked second in Florida and sixth nationally.
CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE FACEBOOK IMAGE GALLERY