Moccasins Defeat Tampa to Win Third-Straight SSC Tournament Title
KISSIMMEE - Florida Southern junior guard Kevin Capers scored a career-high 37 points to help the 16th-ranked and top-seeded Moccasins claim its third consecutive Sunshine State Conference Tournament Championship on Sunday afternoon as they earned an 84-74 victory over No. 3 seeded Tampa in the championship game at the Silver Spurs Arena.
With the victory, the Mocs took home its 22nd SSC Tournament title and became the first team three-peat since the Mocs won four straight tournament titles from 1998-01. The Mocs improved to 26-4 with the win and extended its SSC Tournament win streak to eight consecutive games as they haven't lost in the postseason tournament since falling to Eckerd in the semifinals of the 2011 Tournament.
"The key to the game was our ability to get off to a great start," Mocs head coach Linc Darner said in the postgame press conference. "We wanted to make them (Tampa) play our tempo, instead of having them dictate the tempo like they did the last time we played them. I am really happy for this group of players to be able to win three straight conference tournaments is tremendous."
In Sunday's title game, the Mocs looked like they were going to put the game away early as they jumped out to an 11-0 lead just a little over four minutes into the game thanks to four points apiece from senior guard Frank Adams (Stone Mountain, Ga.) and Capers. During the opening run, UT missed its first three shots and committed six turnovers that led to seven points for the Mocs.
"I thought us getting off to a good start was the biggest key to the game," said Capers, who has now scored 1,588 points in three-plus seasons as a Moccasins, which is ninth on the school's all-time list.
UT was one of four teams the Mocs lost to during the regular season as the Spartans earned a 71-69 win in Tampa on Feb. 26.
After FSC's initial opening run, the Spartans used a 9-7 run to pull within 20-9 following two free throws from Jordan Davis with 13:17 left in the opening half to get back into the game.
The Mocs opened the game hitting just four of its first 11 shots, before hitting 11 of its next 15 shots, including a stretch of making seven consecutive shots to push out to a 33-15 lead following a lay-up from sophomore guard Dominique Williams (Haines City, Fla.) with 8:42 left in the first half. During that stretch, Capers scored 13 consecutive points to push FSC's lead to 29-13 with 10:03 left in the opening half.
FSC led 43-23 following a lay-up by Capers with 5:13 left, before the Spartans closed the half on a 12-4 run to drop the Mocs halftime lead to 47-35. UT's run was keyed by six points from Da'Markco Foster.
Capers scored 23 of his career-high 37 points in the first half, while Williams scored 10 of his 12 points in the opening half.
"We knew they (Tampa) were going to make a run and would just have to withstand their run," said Darner, who has now led FSC to five SSC Tournament titles in eight years with the Mocs. "Tampa is a very good team and we knew they'd battle back."
After Tampa opened the second half by scoring the five points, the Mocs would respond with a 14-6 run to push its lead back out to 61-46 following a jumper by Capers at the 13:20 mark. The run was jump started by two three-pointers from junior guard Tyler Kelly (Pickerington, Ohio) and capped by six straight points from Capers.
"T.K. hit two really big threes in the second half to help us push our lead back out in double digits," the Moc coach added. "We had some guys step up today and make some plays and knock down some shots, especially in the first half as we were battling foul trouble."
Following the Mocs run, UT answered with a 15-5 run keyed by seven points from Foster and capped by a lay-up from Vincent Cornu with 8:59 left to drop the Mocs lead to 66-61.
FSC would push its lead back out to 11 points at 72-61 with 5:14 left, before Tampa used a 13-8 run capped by a trey from Foster to pull within 80-74 with 47 seconds left in the game. Capers, who was named the SSC Tournament's Most Outstanding Player, would seal FSC's win by hitting four straight free throws in the game's final 42 seconds.
Along with Capers' 37 points, which is the most scored by a Moccasin player this season, Kelly added 14 points and Williams chipped in with 12. The Mocs in double figures was Adams, as he scored 11 points to extend his double figure scoring streak to three consecutive games. Adams was the other Moc to earn a spot on the SSC All-Tournament Team.
Foster led the way for the Spartans with 28 points, including hitting 5-of-11 from the 3-point line and scoring 16 points after halftime. In addition to Foster, Cornu added 16 points and 10 rebounds, while Davis tallied 14 points and six boards in the loss. Both Cornu and Davis were named to the SSC All-Tournament Team.
For the game, FSC shot 44 percent from the field and 40 percent (6-for-15) from the 3-point line, while UT shot 45 percent from the field and 44 percent (7-for-16) from long distance. The Mocs shot 51 percent from the field in the first half and UT shot 50 percent from the field in the second half.
Both teams finished with 39 rebounds and the Mocs forced UT into 16 turnovers, which led to 18 points. FSC had 12 turnovers for the game.
In addition to Capers, Adams, Cornu and Davis, the other two members of the six-player SSC All-Tournament Team were Eckerd's Josh Snodgrass and Saint Leo's Jerrel Harris.
FSC will return to action next weekend as they are expected to be named as the host school for the NCAA Division II South Regional Tournament. The tournament will be held from March 15-18. The NCAA will announce the 64 team field at 10:30 p.m. EST online at www.ncaa.com.