LAKELAND, FL - Florida Southern College men's basketball crushed Sunshine State Conference rival Tampa, 75-56, and grabbed its sixth-straight win on Wednesday night at Jenkins Field House. The Moccasins (18-9, 12-7 SSC) all but locked up a home game in next week's SSC Tournament quarterfinals as they finished off the season sweep of the Spartans (9-16, 5-14) on Senior Night.
Jonathan Lawton led all players with 19 points, while Tyler Ross scored 11 and Trey Diggs and Jack Rauch each had 10. Ross and fellow senior Luke St. Lifer earned the start on Wednesday night in the final regular-season game for each player. The Mocs close out the regular season at Embry-Riddle on Saturday, and can still finish as high as second in the final SSC standings after being selected to finish ninth in the preseason coaches poll.
HOW IT HAPPENED
• Florida Southern looked as if it might have a challenge on its hands early on as the Spartans jumped out to a 5-2 lead in the first minute of play. However, Lawton hit a three-pointer to tie things up at 5-5 with 18:25 to go in the first half and the Mocs never trailed after Rauch drilled a three just over a minute later to make it 10-7. The bucket was part of a 9-0 run that turned a 7-5 deficit into a 14-7 lead with 14:52 on the clock.
• The Mocs took their first double-digit lead of the game (19-9) on Ben Marello's layup at the 12:37 mark, and the rout was on. Trey Diggs' three with 10:08 to go in the first made it 30-12 in favor of Florida Southern, and the Moccasins rode the wave of momentum into halftime with a 40-26 lead.
• In the early stages of the second half, the Spartans did little to cut into the deficit, and Florida Southern found itself ahead by 21 points (59-38) with 11:35 left to play. It would be all the momentum the Mocs would need as they finished off the season sweep of Tampa and put themselves in position to host a first-round tournament game next week.
• Lawton finished 7-of-14 from the floor and was 5-of-8 from long range, while Ross nearly tallied a double-double by grabbing nine rebounds. The Moccasins shot 42.9 percent (30-of-70) from the floor and held the Spartans to 41.1 percent (23-of-56). The Spartans finished with a 40-36 edge in rebounds, but the Mocs matched Tampa with 28 points in the paint.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
• Florida Southern improved to 92-54 all-time against Tampa, including 53-33 when facing the Spartans at home. The Moccasins closed out their regular-season home slate with a 13-3 record in home games.
• St. Lifer's start was the first of his career. He began his time with the men's basketball program as a team manager during the 2014-15 season, when the Mocs won the NCAA Division II National Championship. Ross made the 45th start of his career on Wednesday and played in his 110th career game. He was a freshman when the Moccasins won the national title three years ago.
• Florida Southern head coach Mike Donnelly stayed on pace with each of the other 10 coaches in school history who have been with the Mocs for at least three years. Each of those previous 10 coaches averaged 18 wins in their third season, and Donnelly hit that mark on Wednesday with at least two more games remaining this year.
• Earlier in the day, the NCAA released the latest South Region rankings and the Mocs were ranked No. 8. The top eight teams in the regional rankings following conference tournament action will head to the NCAA Tournament.
• Florida Southern will head to Embry-Riddle to close out the regular season on Saturday. The Mocs are likely to host a quarterfinal contest in the upcoming SSC Tournament next Wednesday. FSC will also host the semifinals (March 3) and championship (March 4) of the conference tournament.