Florida Tech Outlasts Tampa to Win SSC Quarterfinal in Double OT, First SSC Tourney Win Since 2012
By Florida Tech Sports Information // March 17, 2021
panthers face Saint Leo in semifinal on thursday
Panthers Win in Double-Overtime Thriller, 90-84
BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – The No. 3 seed Florida Tech men’s basketball team was able to hold off No. 6 seed Tampa in a double-overtime thriller, 90-84, on Tuesday in the quarterfinal round of the Sunshine State Conference Tournament at the Clemente Center.
The game marks the Panthers’ first SSC tournament win since 2012.
“Tournament play is all about survive and advance,” said head coach Billy Mims. “You have to show heart, courage, and determination to win these types of games. That’s what our team has done all season long and they did it tonight against a really good and physical Tampa team.
“We knew this was going to be a heavy-weight boxing match. We knew Tampa was going to continue attacking and we just had to find a way to overcome that and win the game, and that’s what we did tonight.”
Sesan Russell, the two-time reigning SSC Player of the Week, led the Panthers with 35 points, seven rebounds, and five assists. He made six threes in the game and 9-10 at the free throw line to lead the Crimson & Gray.
Niall Harris recorded a double-double on 21 points and 11 rebounds, both career-highs. Seven of his 11 rebounds were on the defensive end and he had two steals in the game.
“Niall has become a major player for us, whether its rebounding or making big free throws,” Mims stated. “He had an incredible game tonight and led us with 10 made free throws in the game, including four important free throws at the end of the game to seal the victory for this team.”
Sean Houpt added 12 points and seven rebounds and Mekhii Noble just missed a double-double with nine points, 13 boards, three steals and two blocks in the game. Trey Schaneville tallied nine points, all from beyond the arc, and four rebounds.
It was an electric, back-and-forth game early on. The Panthers used a 14-4 run midway through the first half to grab a 24-15 advantage on a put-back by Harris with 8:51 to go. The Spartans were able to cut the margin to four on a three-point basket by Jones and a fast break layup by Derrick Felder.
Houpt hit a layup with 4:27 left and followed it up with a free throw 37 seconds later to push Tech’s lead to 28-20. The Spartans used a 5-0 run to cut the margin to 28-25 with 1:18 remaining but Harris made four free throws in the final stretch of the first half to give the Panthers a 32-26 edge at halftime.
Tampa opened the second half with a 10-4 run to cut Tech’s lead to 36-32 with 16:45 remaining following back-to-back buckets by Jones, who finished with a game-high 39 points in the game.
The Panthers answered with a four-point play by Russell, after he was fouled on a made three from the wing, and a layup by Houpt to grab their first double-digit lead in the game at 42-32 with 15:47 to go.
The Spartans came right back with a 14-4 run to trim the margin to 48-46 with just under 10 minutes remaining. The Panthers then scored four straight from beyond the arc, including two threes by Schaneville, to increase their advantage to 60-49 with 6:03 left on the clock.
Harris hit a pair of free throws with just over five minutes to go and then knocked down a jumper off an assist from Russell with 3:31 left to hand Florida Tech its largest lead, 64-52, with 3:31 to go in the second half.
At that point it looked as though the Panthers were going to cruise to a quarterfinal win.
However, Tampa had other things in mind and outscored Tech 12-0 over the final three minutes and sent the game to overtime on a trey by freshman Jones with 11 seconds to go. Noble had a chance to win the game at the buzzer but his last-second layup was called off by the officials and the SSC quarterfinal went into overtime tied at 64.
The Spartans were able to build out a 75-71 advantage with less than two minutes remaining in the first overtime thanks to a four-point play by Jones.
The Panthers came back and tied the game at 75 on a free throw by Russell with 52 seconds left in the period.
Tampa regained a two-point edge on a dunk by Jonathan Bryant II with 27 seconds to go but Russell was able to draw a foul on a drive to the basket and made both free throws to even the score at 77 and send things to double overtime.
Jones was able to get a shot off for UT in the last second, but it didn’t fall, and the teams went back to their benches to prepare for another five-minute period.
In the second overtime, the Spartans led 82-79 with 3:25 to go before Schaneville drained his third three of the game to tie it up at 82. Russell then converted an and-one opportunity to push Tech’s lead to 85-82 with 1:37 left.
Jones cut the margin to one after making a pair of free throws for Tampa but from there the Panther defense tightened up and held the Spartans to 0-4 shooting the final minute of the game.
Florida Tech then won the game at the line with Noble and Harris combining for the final five points of the game to seal the victory and help their team reach the SSC semifinal round for the first time in 10 years.
“I’ve talked all year about us being a good defensive team,” said Mims. “When got right down to it at the end of both overtimes, we had to play defense to continue on and have a chance to win. Our guys were beaten up and tired, but they didn’t quit and were not going to let this game slip away.
“I’m proud of our guys in always believing we were going to find a way to win. Even when it looked like we may lose the ball game, our team showed no quit and were able to come out with the win.”
The Crimson & Gray will now hit the road for Thursday’s semifinal matchup with Saint Leo, a team that went 4-1 during the shortened SSC season. The Lions defeated No. 7 seed Barry 67-58 in their quarterfinal game on Tuesday night.
Tip-off between the Panthers and Lions is set for 5 p.m. at the Marion Bowman Activities Center in Saint Leo, Florida.
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