Florida Southern vs. Tampa, Round Two
After a weekend off without a game, Florida Southern returns to the court Wednesday night when it makes the short trip down Interstate 4 for its second game of the year with the University of Tampa. Now 22-3 overall, 11-3 in the Sunshine State Conference, and ranked #11 in the country, the Moccasins need a win to stay in contention for their third straight SSC regular season title. The Spartans (10-14, 4-11) might need a win just to qualify for the SSC Tournament.
Florida Southern Probable Starters:
F, #15, John Thompson (16.0 ppg., 8.8 rebs., 1.5 asts., .558 fg%)
F, #32, A.J. Hawkins (7.2 ppg. 4.2 rebs., .605 fg%)
G, #1, Brandon Jenkins (12.2 pts., 5.1 rebs., 5.2 asts., .481 3-pt.%)
G, #2, Terry Jenkins (13.0 pts., 3.2 rebs., 2.6 asts., .438 3-pt.%)
G, #20, Rion Rayfield (16.4 pts., 3.1 rebs., 5.3 asts., 1.6 steals, .445 3-pt.%)
Tampa Probable Starters:
F, #25, Glyn Hunter (6.5 pts., 4.1 rebs., .527 fg%)
F, #35, Marcus Morrison (7.1 pts., 4.8 rebs., 1.5 blocks, .610 fg%
G, #3, Rashad Callaway (21.8 pts., 4.3 rebs., 6.5 asts., 2.5 steals)
G, #21, Ashton Graham (5.2 pts., 3.1 rebs.)
G, #24, Anthony LaBruno (12.1 pts., 3.7 rebs., 1.8 asts.)
SERIES HISTORY... Florida Southern leads the series with Tampa, 83-70, and has won the last five meetings. One of those came earlier this year in Jenkins Field House when the Moccasins rallied from a 22-point second-half deficit for a 95-89 win in overtime. Since UT brought back men's basketball in 1983-84, the Mocs' series edge is 47-27, but they're only 13-13 against the Spartans in regular season games at Tampa. They have won in their last two visits to the Martinez Center, however, including a 77-70 win last year. If the Mocs win again this year, it would be the first time since 1957-59 they've won on the road against Tampa three years in a row. The Moccasins are 6-3 against Tampa under current coach Linc Darner.
ABOUT FLORIDA SOUTHERN... The Moccasins have been off since defeating Saint Leo 101-70 last Wednesday night, their largest margin of victory in a conference game in six years and the fifth time this season they've reached triple digits. That kept them within striking distance of Rollins in the SSC standings, but they lost ground on Saturday when the Tars (21-4, 12-2) also defeated Saint Leo. Regardless of what happens this week, the Mocs know they'll be at home next Wednesday for the first round of the conference tournament. Recently, Florida Southern has been led by senior forward John Thompson and freshman guard Damon Ellison, and both were at their best against Saint Leo. Thompson had 27 points, 14 rebounds, three blocks and three steals to earn SSC Player-of-the-Week honors, and Ellison tied his career-high with 17 points off the bench. For Thompson, it was his ninth double-double of the season and his sixth in conference play where's averaging 16.9 points and 9.5 rebounds. He's also scored 20 or more points in three of his last four games, and eight times overall; he just missed that mark against Tampa on January 20 when he totaled 19 points and 11 rebounds. Ellison has not started a game this season, but he's scored in double figures eight times, including five of the last seven games. In four of them, Ellison scored at least 15, and during that stretch, only Thompson and Rion Rayfield have scored more points for the Moccasins. Ellison has also been the Mocs' top shooter during that span with a .591 percentage, with A.J. Hawkins second at .581. Meanwhile, the starting guard trio of Rayfield, Terry Jenkins and Brandon Jenkins are all averaging better than 12 points per game, giving Florida Southern a league-best 87.4 scoring average as a team. That's almost 10 points higher than second-place Florida Tech. The Mocs also lead the SSC and the nation in 3-point shooting percentage at .449, are second in overall field goal percentage (.480), third in free throw percentage (.747) and first in turnover margin (+2.60).
ABOUT TAMPA... Since starting the year 8-3 overall and 3-0 in the SSC, Tampa has lost 11 of its last 13 games to plunge into last place in the standings. Most of the losses have been very hard to take, with three coming in overtime (Florida Southern, Florida Tech and Lynn) and two others coming by two points (Barry and Rollins). They also lost a pair of nine-point games to Eckerd in which they were within six and had possession with under two minutes to play. One reason Tampa has fallen on hard times has been field goal shooting. UT ranks last in the SSC by a wide margin with a .428 field goal percentage, though the team is fourth in 3-point percentage and second to Florida Southern in 3-point field goals per game (8.8 to 9.3). The Spartans are also second in free throw percentage at .754, currently the best in school history, and only the Moccasins commit fewer turnovers. Individually, Tampa has the league's leading scorer in Rashad Callaway, a senior guard averaging 21.8 points per game. He's scored 20+ in 16 games this season, including one with 29 against the Moccasins on January 20. Callaway also leads the SSC with 6.5 assists per game, (followed by Rion Rayfield and Brandon Jenkins), is first in steals with 59, and his .821 free throw percentage ranks third, trailing only Eckerd's John Harper and Rayfield from Florida Southern. However, Callaway is only a 34 percent field goal shooter overall, and a 29 percent shooter from 3-point range (48-for-166). The Spartans' best long-range shooters have been Mounir Benzegala (36-for-82, .439) Anthony LaBruno (26-for-62, .419) and Callum Townsend (65-for-171, .380), though Benzegala has been in-and-out of the lineup due to injury and did not play in the first game against Florida Southern. Tampa is 1-8 when he either doesn't play, or plays only sparingly. LaBruno is UT's second leading scorer with a 12.1 average, but has missed six games, and Townsend is third with a 10.9 average, while starting 18 games and coming off the bench six times.