Mocs Use Second-Half Rally to Defeat Eckerd, Advance to SSC Tournament Finals
KISSIMMEE - Florida Southern used a 34-15 run over the final 10-plus minutes of the game to turn a 61-48 deficit into an 82-76 victory over seventh-ranked Eckerd here Saturday afternoon in the first semifinal game of the 2014 Sunshine State Conference Tournament at the Silver Spurs Arena.
The run helped the 16th-ranked and top-seeded Moccasins extend its win streak in the SSC Tournament to seven straight games and improve to 25-4 overall on the season, while Eckerd closes its season with a 16-14 record.
With the victory, the Mocs advance to Sunday's SSC Tournament Championship game for the third consecutive season. The Mocs will face No. 3 seeded Tampa in Sunday's final after the Spartans held off No. 2 seeded Saint Leo, 60-59 in Saturday's second semifinal game. Tip-off for Sunday's title game is set for 1 p.m. at the Silver Spurs Arena. The Mocs are seeking to win its third consecutive SSC Tournament title.
"I thought when we got down 13 that we were done, but our guys stepped up and made some stops on defense, picked up some huge rebounds and knocked down some shots," Moccasin head coach Linc Darner said. "It is always difficult to play a team three times in a season. I thought Eckerd played really well today, but I thought we were able to use our depth to our advantage down the stretch."
The Mocs, who trailed 61-48 after Jerrick Stevenson completed a 3-point play with 10:50 left in the game, used a 14-2 run over the next two minutes to pull within 63-62 following a jumper by junior forward Stephen Battle (Waldorf, Md.) with 8:40 left in the game. During the run, junior guard Kevin Capers (Winter Haven, Fla.) and senior guard Frank Adams (Stone Mountain, Ga.) combined to score 12 of FSC's 14 points as Capers had seven and Adams scored five during the run.
After Eckerd pushed its lead back out to four at 68-64, the Mocs used a 7-0 run to take a 71-68 lead with 5:46 remaining. The run began with a three-pointer from junior guard Tyler Logan (Marlboro, Md.) and was capped by a four straight points from junior guard Tyler Kelly (Pickerington, Ohio), including scoring on a lay-up with 6:05 left in game to give FSC a lead it wouldn't relinquish the remainder of the game. Logan's trey was the only one of the game for Mocs as they extended its made three-pointer streak to 328 consecutive games.
The Mocs would get its lead to six at 75-69 after a bucket from senior forward Lamar McKnight (Cleveland, Ohio), before Josh Snodgrass connected on 3-of-4 free throws to pull Eckerd within 75-72 with 3:34 left in the game. FSC, though, would score five of the next seven points to push its lead to 80-74 after Kelly hit 1-of-2 free throws.
Snodgrass, who was playing in his final game as a Triton, drew Eckerd within four at 80-76 with 18 seconds left, but the Mocs capped the scoring by hitting 2-for-4 from the foul line.
Capers, who was named the SSC Player of the Year on Friday by the league's coaches, led the way offensively for the Mocs as he tallied 23 points and dished out a game-high six assists. In addition to Capers, Adams finished the game with 20 points as he scored 10 points in each half. The 23 point effort by Capers was his 18th of the season and 12th in his last 15 games.
Two other Mocs finished in double figures in the win as McKnight scored 12 points and had six boards, while Battle had 14 points off the bench.
"I thought Stephen really played well off the bench and Lamar really got us going inside offensively in the second half," said Darner, who repeated as this year's SSC Coach of the Year and has now won the honor five times in eight seasons with the Mocs.
Snodgrass paced the Tritons as he scored 19 points, including 13 in the second half, while Malcolm Brunner, Jr. added 15 points and eight boards in the loss. Stevenson and E.J. Moody, who are both Lakeland natives, each had 12 points and Alex Bodney finished with 10 points in his final collegiate game.
Eckerd jumped out to a 17-8 lead in the opening 11 minutes of the game and led by as much as 13 points in the first half, until the Mocs cut the gap at the half thanks to closing the first half on an 18-9 run to go into halftime trailing 37-33. The Mocs run was keyed by eight points from Adams, including a lay-up with 16 seconds left to close the half's scoring.
Saturday's game was the first for the Mocs in a week as they hadn't played since closing the regular season with a 72-68 win at home on Senior Night against Rollins, while Eckerd was playing its third game of the tournament as they opened the tournament on Wednesday with an 83-73 win over fourth-seeded Barry and then picked up a 66-52 win on Friday over sixth-seeded Nova Southeastern.
"I thought the week off helped us get better and work on things as a basketball team. I don't think it had anything to do with us getting off to a slow start today, that was just Eckerd playing well and us not," Darner said when asked in the postgame press conference about the week layoff between games.
The Mocs finished the game shooting 45 percent from the field and were just 1-for-5 (20 percent) from the 3-point line, while Eckerd shot 40 percent from the field and 33 percent from downtown. The Tritons shot only 35 percent and made just one of its seven 3-point attempts after halftime.
Eckerd held a 44-39 edge on the glass, but the Mocs won the rebounding battle in the second half as they outrebounded the Tritons, 24-20, including 6-3 on the offensive boards. FSC also forced Eckerd into 16 turnovers that led to 22 points. The Mocs committed just nine turnovers in the game.
Both teams struggled at the free throw line in the game as they combined to shoot a total of 78 free throws in the game as the teams were whistled for a combined 56 fouls. The Mocs shot 62 percent (23-for-37) at the line and Eckerd shot 61 percent (25-for-41) from the charity stripe.