Florida Tech’s Rampant Rally Halted Late in Winter Classic Finale, Fall 74-73 To Arkansas Tech
By Florida Tech // December 20, 2015
BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – Florida Tech failed to execute much of anything for the first 20 minutes of Saturday’s contest. Despite rallying from a 16-point halftime deficit, the early hole proved too much for the Panthers to cap the dramatic comeback as they eventually fell 74-73 at home to Arkansas Tech.
Dominated in nearly every aspect in the first half, the Panthers flipped the script in the second, but allowed the potential momentous victory to slip away in the waning moments.
“We have to be able to make plays down the stretch, I don’t care how tired we are,” said head coach Billy Mims.
“We got to that point and just lost a little bit of our mental focus. The effort, the energy, the passion was all there – we just didn’t make enough plays.
“It was a tale of two halves. We dug ourselves a big hole against a very good basketball team. As the age old saying goes, it was ‘too little, too late.'”
Five Panthers recorded double-figure scoring efforts, paced by Sam Daniel’s 16 points and Corbin Jackson’s seventh double-double of the season, but the Crimson and Gray collectively struggled en route to just 34.8 shooting on the afternoon.
With five players featured on their roster standing at least 6-8, the Wonder Boys gave Florida Tech fits from the opening tip with their size and length.
An up-and-down pace favored Arkansas Tech early as a transition three by Marquis Yates put the visitors ahead 18-7 at the 13-minute mark in the first half.
Forced to his bench, Mims inserted three-point threat Randy Echols. Moments later, on his first touch of the afternoon, the redshirt senior found nothing but the bottom of the net to cut into the deficit.
However, Arkansas Tech seemed to make the Panthers pay for each and every miss, continuously turning long rebounds and turnovers into points on the other end of the floor. A Yates slam stretched the Wonder Boys’ cushion to 35-21 and eventually entered intermission in front 43-27.
Arkansas Tech held a 30-16 rebounding advantage as well as a 12-3 margin in fast break points at the break. In addition, the Great American Conference member limited Florida Tech to a season-low 29 percent shooting from the field.
“We didn’t play hard or very smart in the first half,” said Mims.
“We were too predictable and easy to defend. We deserved to be 16 down at the half, they outworked us.”
The roles soon reversed, though.
Much more active coming out of the break, the Panthers tallied the first eight points of the second half after hitting 4-of-5 shot attempts to quickly close the gap to within single digits.
A Pat Anderson jumper made it a one possession game, and soon gave the Panthers their very first lead on another with 9:07 to play.
“In the second half, we were a lot more aggressive offensively,” said Mims.
“We were flying around and had an intensity on both ends of the floor that got us back in the ball game.”
Sticking with its starters throughout the comeback, Florida Tech extended its advantage to 61-55 on a Jackson finish in the paint. However, the Panthers gradually ran out of steam and found themselves tied at 70-70 with one minute remaining.
Trailing by a pair following two Wonder Boys’ free throws, Anderson attempted a runner in the lane, but the floater rimmed out as Arkansas Tech was able to then salt the game away at the foul line.
“In the second half, I thought we stepped up our intensity 200 percent,” said Mims.
“Defense and rebounding are two huge keys to winning basketball games. We got pounded on the boards and I think that was the biggest difference in the game today. Arkansas Tech is a big team, and that size really hurt us today.”
Anderson finished with 13 points and six boards, while Echols and Jordan Majors chipped in 10 points apiece.
FIT will be off until Dec. 30 when it travels to Stetson for an exhibition contest before diving back into Sunshine State Conference competition on the road at Lynn on Jan. 2.