MELBOURNE, Fla. – A big night by sophomore Sesan Russell helped Florida Tech to its best performance of the season as the Panthers overpowered Lynn 88-81 for their first Sunshine State Conference victory Saturday night at the Clemente Center.
“This was an incredible performance by our team tonight!” exclaimed head coach Billy Mims. “We only played eight players tonight and all eight made major contributions in the game. Not only did all eight players score in the game, seven of the eight recorded rebounds for us.”
“Everyone’s energy and effort showed in the game tonight and propelled us to a big victory over a talented Lynn team. I am very proud of how our team responded to adversity and played together to get the win.”
It was another career night for Russell, who recorded a career-high 36 points on an efficient 10-of-14 shooting, including 4-of-6 from beyond the arc, and an impressive 12-of-13 effort at the line. Additionally, the London, England product picked up five assists, four rebounds and two steals.
“We put the ball in Sesan’s hands tonight because we needed a veteran player to step in at the point with us having several guys not at 100%.,” said Mims. “At first he was hesitant to play the role as he thought it would take away what he does for us on the scoring side but I assured him he would find a way to help us in that area whether he was at point guard or not. And guess what, he ends up having his biggest game of the year.”
Derek Murphy also had a strong night for Tech as he produced a double-double on 23 points and 13 rebounds, while also etching his name in Florida Tech allure as he reached the 1000 career point milestone in tonight’s game.
Jalen Hodges filled up the stat sheet for the Panthers as he finished with nine points, six rebounds and seven assists.
“Jalen was exciting to watch tonight and helped us in a lot of areas,” Mims added. “How many times do you see a forward finishing with seven assists? This was definitely the best game Jalen Hodges has had as a Panther.”
Florida Tech got off to a good start in the game as Hodges and Murphy knocked down the first two baskets to put the Panthers up 4-0 early on. Lynn eventually tied the game and then took an 18-13 lead with 10:49 to go in the first half.
The Panthers answered with a 10-0, all scored by Russell, to grab a 23-18 edge with 8:45 left. Tech’s lead grew to 35-26 on a jumper by Antonis Pefanis, who finished with seven points in the game.
A fast-break dunk by Russell increased the Panthers’ lead to 39-29 with 2:34 remaining but the Fighting Knights fought back and made the margin five points at halftime following a dunk by the Fighting Knights
Florida Tech’s lead quickly ballooned to 13 points after Hodges slammed home an impressive alley-oop to put Tech up 51-38 with 14:39 remaining. A jumper in the lane by Murphy with 8:56 left in regulation and the score 57-48 not only pushed Tech’s lead to 11 but also pushed the redshirt senior’s career point total to 1,000.
“All Derek has done is grind hard during his five years at Florida Tech. I have really enjoyed watching Derek Murphy mature over his time here, as a player and as a young man. I thought he had a tremendous game tonight and it’s fitting that he got his 1,000th point in a home win against a great team.”
Lynn cut the margin to 61-55, with 7:24 left on the clock but Panthers pulled away again, this time building their lead to 74-56 following a 13-1 run.
Tech’s lead would eventually slip again as they held a 76-70 edge with 2:08 to go following. The Panthers got the lead back to 11 after a pair of free throws by Russell with 1:04 remaining.
The Fighting Knights attempted to get back in the game as the Panthers’ lead diminished to as little as six points with just a few seconds to go. Yet, it was too little too late as the Panthers held on for their first conference win of the season.
Florida Tech had an impressive shooting performance in the game finishing 29-of-54 (53.7%) from the field, 8-of-16 (50%) from three and 64.7% on free throws. Lynn, on the other hand, ended the game with 29-of-77 (37.7%) shooting, while also going 10-of-32 (31.1%) from three and 13-of-19 (68.4%) at the line.
The Panthers ended with an advantage in rebounding 42-40, including a 31-21 disparity on the offensive glass. Tech outscored Lynn in the paint 32-26, while the Fighting Knights scored more points off turnovers and on second-chance opportunities.
Next up for Florida Tech is a trip to Miami Shores, Florida for an SSC showdown with Barry on Wednesday, Dec. 16. Tip-off between the Bucs and Panthers is set for 5:30 and 7:30 p.m. at the Health & Sports Center on Barry’s campus.
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