LAKELAND, FL - Florida Southern College men's basketball battled back from a four-point deficit to tie things up in the final two minutes but was unable to get past a pesky Eckerd squad in a 74-72 loss in the semifinals of the Sunshine State Conference Tournament on Saturday at Jenkins Field House. The Moccasins (20-10) led by three at halftime, but the Tritons (23-6) forced a late turnover and hit key free throws down the stretch to advance to face Barry in the SSC Tournament title game on Sunday.
Jonathan Lawton led the Mocs with 29 points while Ben Marello poured in 18, but a less than stellar performance from long range (8-of-26) hurt Florida Southern in the long run. The Moccasins were held under 40.0 percent from the floor for the first time in nearly two months, while the Tritons hit 51.9 percent of their second-half shots en route to the win.
HOW IT HAPPENED
• Florida Southern got out of the gate quickly, building a five-point lead in the early stages of the first half. However, Eckerd battled back to snag a one-point lead, its first of the game (18-17), with 9:26 to go in the opening period.
• The team would trade jabs several times over the next five minutes, trading leads several times. With the scored tied at 29-29 and 2:02 on the clock, Trey Diggs connected from long range to break the stalemate and help the Moccasins take a 36-33 lead at the half.
• After falling behind by eight points (54-46) near the midpoint of the second half, Florida Southern ripped off an 11-1 run to grab a 57-55 lead on a Diggs' three with 10:46 left to play. The Moccasins would not fall behind again until the Tritons nailed a pair of three-pointers to snag a 67-63 advantage with 3:31 to go.
• Eckerd clung to a 70-66 lead with just over a minute to go, but Marello hit a layup for the Mocs and Lawton followed with a pair of free throws to know the score at 70-70 with just 44 seconds left. The Tritons connected on a layup with 25 seconds left to regain the lead. With a chance to win or tie on the last shot, Florida Southern fell prey to an untimely turnover and Eckerd hit a pair of free-throws to go back up by four (74-70). Brett Hanson hit a layup with five seconds to go to make it 74-72 and the Mocs got new life when Eckerd missed the front end of a one-and-one, but Lawton's desperation shot from halfcourt fell short as the Tritons snuck past with the win.
• The Moccasins shot 39.1 percent (25-of-64) from the floor and went 14-of-17 at the charity stripe. Eckerd hit 42.4 percent (25-of-59) of their shots, including 7-of-19 from long range and 16-of-20 at the free-throw line. The Tritons finished with a 41-35 edge in rebounds and outscored the Mocs 34-16 in the paint.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
• Florida Southern fell to 70-39 all-time when facing the Tritons, including 10-5 in the SSC Tournament. As the designated visiting team on a "neutral" court, the Moccasins are 5-4 when facing Eckerd. FSC also dropped to 25-5 all-time in the SSC Tournament semifinals.
• The Moccasins were held to less than 75 points for the first time since a 74-71 victory over then No. 19 Southern New Hampshire on Dec. 30. Florida Southern is now 69-17 all-time in the Sunshine State Conference Tournament.
• Lawton scored 20 or more points for the 20th time this season and scored in double figures for the 29th time this season.
• Florida Southern, which was ranked No. 8 in the most recent South Region rankings, will find out if it will participate in the NCAA Tournament tomorrow night at 10:30 p.m. during the NCAA Division II Selection show. The top eight seeds in the South Region will compete for a regional title and a spot in the Elite Eight.