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Russell scores career-high 29 points as Panthers fall to Tigers 92-75
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – The Florida Tech men’s basketball team fell to Benedict College 92-75 in its season opener Friday night at Warhawks Gymnasium despite outscoring the Tigers 55-42 in the second half thanks to a career night from sophomore Sesan Russell.
Following a forgettable first half, Russell scored 26 of his game-high 29 points in the second half on 10-of-18 shooting and 4-of-8 from three-point land. He also added four rebounds and two steals in the game.
Runako Ziegler showed signs of greatness in his first game donning the Crimson & Gray, as he finished with 18 points, four assists, three rebounds and three steals. Jalen Hodges added nine points and four boards, while Niall Harris recorded eight points and four rebounds. Mekhii Noble hauled in a game-high 11 rebounds.
The opener did not provide the type of start the Panthers were hoping for as SSC leading scorer from last year, Derek Murphy, was hurt in warmups and sat out the game.
Despite the setback, it appeared Tech was going to get off to a great start when Russell knocked down a three to open the scoring just 23 seconds after the tip.
However, the excitement was short-lived as Benedict proceeded to instill its will and outscore the Panthers 50-17 over the remainder of the first half to take a 30-point advantage into halftime.
“It’s tough when you are on the road and you have a Preseason All-American, the conference’s leading scorer from a year ago, and he goes down in warmups. After Derek got hurt and the guys came into the locker room, you could just see it in their eyes. I thought the entire first half we just had that ‘deer in the headlights’ look.”
“Give Benedict credit, they took advantage of Derek not being in the game and really pressured us in the first half. They got up and guarded us up in our faces. They pushed us out of what we wanted to do and I think a lot of that had to do with there being no Derek Murphy on the court.”
Florida Tech struggled across the board in the first half, shooting 22.6% from the field, including making only 1-of-12 from three. The Tigers outrebounded Tech 28-18 and had a 20-0 edge in fast break points over the first 20 minutes. Additionally, Benedict earned a 22-10 advantage in points in the paint and scored 20 points off the Panthers’ 14 first-half turnovers.
The Panthers’ comeback began on the shoulders of Russell who knocked down seven straight points to trim the deficit to 62-40 and ignite the rally with 13:02 remaining.
A 9-0 run with less than 10 minutes to go cut the margin to 68-57 following a pair of free throws by Ziegler, who went 8-of-12 from the line in the game. Tech tried to get the difference down to single digits but foul trouble began to plague the Panthers, and Benedict made more trips to the charity stripe.
The constant trips to the free throw line allowed the Tigers to build their lead to 18 points, 81-63, with 4:43 remaining. The Panthers were unable to spark another comeback attempt over the waning moments and got handed their first loss of the season.
Tech outscored BC in points off turnovers 21-9 and points in the paint 28-16 over the final 20 minutes of action. Florida Tech also bested BC in fast break points 24-8 in the second half. However, the Tigers still finished with a significant advantage in rebounding 52-38.
The Panthers picked up their shooting after halftime, making 20-of-42 (47.6%) from the field and 29.4% beyond the arc. FT made 10-of-13 of its free throws in the second period. The Tigers made 41.9% of their shots, including 2-6 from three-point range, and converted 14-of-20 at the line.
Despite the loss, Mims was pleased with his team’s turnaround after a frustrating first-half performance.
“We had cut the deficit to 12 with about 10 minutes to go in the second half. I thought our team gave a great effort in the second half, they never quit. We were down 33 on the road with our best player sitting out and they fought back into the game. You have to love that effort from these guys!”
Florida Tech will look to carry the momentum into its second game of the weekend on Saturday, Nov. 9 against host Auburn-Montgomery. That contest is set to tip-off at 5 p.m. ET at Warhawks Gymnasium.
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