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Derek Murphy returns to lineup and scores 18 points to propel Panthers to 89-71 victory
MELBOURNE, Fla. – Florida Tech jumped out to an early lead in its Battle of the Panthers with LaGrange College and cruised to a wire-to-wire, 89-71 victory Friday at the Clemente Center.
“I thought we came out today very focused and played a pretty flawless first half,” said head coach Billy Mims. “We opened the game on a 10-0 scoring run highlighted by a Derek Murphy three-pointer and slam dunk. We defended well in the first half and held LaGrange to only 26 points on 33% shooting and 25% from beyond the arc.
“About the only thing we didn’t do well in the first half was shoot FTs and we’ll definitely be working on that.”
Tech finished 37-of-75 (49%) from the field, including 10-of-27 (37%) beyond the arc, but struggled from the charity stripe going 5-of-14. LaGrange went 28-of-64 (44%) and was limited to 5-of-21 from three-point range. LC also went 10-of-21 on its free throw attempts.
The holiday season brought the return of Derek Murphy to the starting lineup for today’s game. Murphy, a Preseason All-American and the 2018-19 SSC scoring champion, suffered an injury in warmups of this year’s season opener. The senior picked up right where he left off finishing with a team-high 18 points and two rebounds.
“It was great having our team leader back on the court,” added Mims. “Murphy got to play a very productive 23:41 minutes for us in his first appearance of this season.”
Jalen Hodges added 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting with four rebounds and a game-high three blocks. Nieja Jordan recorded 11 points and eight boards. Sesan Russell registered nine points, five assists, three rebounds and three steals.
Mekhii Noble tallied three points and eight rebounds while Valur Valsson tied a game-high seven assists.
Tech showed no rust after Thanksgiving as the Panthers pounced to a 10-0 lead just over three minutes into the first half. Murphy helped with the fast start by accounting for five of those first points.
LaGrange would answer and cut the deficit to 10-6 with 14:31 left but the margin did not stay close for long.
After having its quick start nullified, Florida Tech proceeded to outscore LC 21-7 and grabbed a 31-13 advantage with 4:18 to go in the first half. The lead stayed in double-digits the rest of the half and Tech took a 43-26 edge into the break.
The Panthers continued their onslaught on LaGrange to start the second half, growing their lead to a game-high 21 points, 56-35, when Russel found Murphy for a three with 15:54 remaining.
A 15-6 run by LC trimmed the lead to a dozen, 62-50, with 11:15 to go. However, Tech quickly shut the door and built its lead back to 19 points, 74-55, on a bucket by Harry Craik off an assist from Trey Schaneville with 7:45 left on the clock.
Florida Tech cruised the rest of the way to earn the 18-point victory and move to 3-0 at home this season.
The Crimson & Gray won the rebounding battle (45-36) as well as ended with an advantage in points in the paint (52-28), off turnovers (17-7), second-chance points (17-12), and fast-break points (14-11)
Florida Tech unloaded the bench in the game. Fifteen different players picked up minutes in the game for the Panthers, and 14 of those players recorded points. Tech’s bench alone accounted for 49 points in the ballgame.
“Our size and our depth proved huge today as we outscored LaGrange in the paint and from our bench,” Mims stated. “In fact, our bench outscored our own starters for the first time this season, 49-40!
“We were able to get some quality minutes for every player on our team today,” Mims stated. “That’s a confidence boost and I’m sure something that will pay dividends for us as the season goes on. We now have a very quick turnaround as we have to take on a well-coached NAIA team in Johnson and Wales tomorrow. Hopefully, that depth that we were able to use today will help us compete stronger in our 2nd game within 24 hours.”
The Panthers will look to keep the momentum going on one day’s rest as they come back Saturday afternoon for a showdown with Johnson and Wales at 1:30 p.m. at the Clemente Center.
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