Mocs Use Second Half Rally to Win Home Opener Over Warner
LAKELAND - Florida Southern needed a second rally here Friday evening in its 2013-14 home opener to post a hard-fought 89-83 non-conference victory over Warner in front of nearly 1,200 fans at Jenkins Field House.
The ninth-ranked Moccasins, who improved to 3-0 on the season, trailed by as much as 14 points eight minutes into the game, before outscoring the Royals, 65-50 over the final 24 minutes of the game to rally for the victory and move to 69-18 all-time in home openers and post its third straight home opening victory.
"We didn't play very well tonight and were lucky to come away with a win," Moccasins head coach Linc Darner said following his eighth home opener as the Mocs coach. "We won the game most importantly, but if we continue to play like that, we'll be lucky to finish .500 this season.
"I would like to thank the crowd for coming out tonight. I thought it was a great crowd."
The Royals, who are members of the NAIA's The Sun Conference, need most of its damage offensively by spreading the floor and letting guards Fredrick Conner and Jason Pospichal get hot from the perimeter as those two combined for 55 of WU's 83 points, including 24 of its 37 first half points.
Conner finished the night with 30 points on 10-for-20 shooting from the field and he connected on 8-of-9 free throws, while Pospichal, who is the son of former Moccasin guard Scott Pospichal, tallied 25 points as he finished 8-for-18 from the field, including a 6-for-14 effort from the 3-point line. Pospichal was a member of FSC's 1981 NCAA Division II National Championship team.
Conner entered the game having shot 50 free throws in three games this season and he was averaging nearly 17 trips to the line per game on the year.
"Those two guards really played well tonight. We have got to do a better job of playing defense," said Darner, who improved to 159-66 as the Mocs coach. "A lot of credit goes to Warner. They came in here ready to play and we went through the motions at times, especially early in the game."
The Mocs, who trailed 22-8 just a little over seven minutes into the game, used a dunk from junior guard Kevin Capers (Winter Haven, Fla.) to light a spark as Capers' dunk jumpstarted a 12-4 run for the Mocs to pull them within 26-20 following a basket at the 7:06 mark by senior forward Lamar McKnight (Cleveland, Ohio).
"We were ice cold at the beginning of the game. We were shooting jumpers and not attacking them on offense," the Mocs coach added. "Our team needs to have focus and concentration for an entire game, not just in spurts."
After two free throws by Conner and basket by Mitch Rice pushed WU's lead back to 10 at 30-20, the Mocs would answer by closing the first half on a 16-7 run to go into halftime trailing by just a point at 37-36. The closing run was aided by seven points apiece from Capers and junior forward Stephen Battle (Waldorf, Md.). In fact, Battle scored seven of the half's final nine points, including hit a trey with 48 seconds left to drop the Royals lead to 37-36.
Battle led the way for the Mocs on the night offensively as he scored a career-high 23 points, including 14 in the second half and he also added eight boards and two blocks on the night off the bench.
Senior guard Frank Adams (Stone Mountain, Ga.) gave the Mocs its first lead since early in the game with his lay-up just 28 seconds into the second half. Adam's basket gave FSC a 38-37 lead. WU, though, would answer by scoring five straight points to retake the lead at 42-38 with 18:44 left in the game.
The Mocs, though, would respond with an 18-9 run over the next five-plus minutes to take a 56-51 lead following a free throw by Battle. The Royals wouldn't go away as they scored nine of the next 11 points to retake the lead at 60-58 following a deep three-pointer from Pospichal with 8:48 left in the contest.
Pospichal's shot seemed to energize the Mocs, though, as they answered with a 14-4 run to take a 72-64 lead with 4:29 remaining. The run began with a lay-up from redshirt senior forward Garrett Putman (Washington, D.C.) and was capped by five consecutive points from Battle.
WU would have one more run in them as they used a 10-5 spurt to pull within 77-74 with 2:25 remaining in the game. The Mocs responded with a 7-2 run to push its lead out to eight points at 84-76 with 39 seconds left.
After a lay-up by Keevis Tukes and two free throws by Conner dropped FSC's lead to 85-81 with 21 seconds left, Capers and Putnam each hit two free throws to seal the Mocs victory and extend its homecourt win streak to five straight games dating to last season.
In addition to Battle, Capers added 17 points in 17 minutes of action, while Adams and Putman each added 12 points in the victory. Putman also pulled down a career-high 10 rebounds for his first career double-double as a Moccasin and senior guard Dominic Lane (St. Petersburg, Fla.) finished with seven points, four assists and nine rebounds.
On the night, the Mocs held a 57-36 edge on the boards that led to a 24-11 advantage in second chance points. In addition, FSC's bench scored 49 of their 89 points.
Besides Conner and Pospichal, Ellis finished the night with eight points and 10 rebounds for the Royals, who are 1-2 on the season.
For the game, FSC shot 43.8 percent from the field, but was just 27 percent (6-for-22) from long distance and hit just 58 percent (19-for-33) from the free throw line, while WU shot 44 percent from the field, 27 percent (9-for-33) from long distance and 75 percent (12-for-16) at the line. The Royals also won the turnover battle by one as FSC committed 13 on the night, while WU had just 12.
The Mocs will now embark on a two-game road trip next week as they travel to Columbia, S.C., for a 7:30 p.m. game on Thursday, Nov. 21 against Benedict, before playing a 3:30 p.m. game on Saturday, Nov. 23 in Savannah, Ga., against Armstrong Atlantic.
"Benedict will be a huge game for us. They have brought in a lot of transfers and are expected to make a return appearance in the NCAA Tournament this season," said Darner when asked about Thursday's game with Benedict. "We better be ready to play and play better than we did tonight."