LAKELAND, FL - Rico Releford's strong performance off the bench helped lift Florida Southern College men's basketball to a 74-67 win over Tampa in the Sunshine State Conference opener on Wednesday night at Streamline Sale Arena at Jenkins Field House. The No. 21 Moccasins (5-1, 1-0 SSC) trailed the Spartans (4-3, 0-1) by five points at the half, but Florida Southern limited Tampa to just 27 points in the second half and Releford hit two key three-pointers late in the game to help the Mocs complete the comeback.
Releford scored 12 points, seven in the second half, for his best scoring night in almost a year and the Moccasins hit several clutch free throws down the stretch to seal the win. The Mocs continue SSC play when they host Embry-Riddle next Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.
HOW IT HAPPENED
- Florida Southern looked as if it was going to run away with the game as it stormed out to a 13-1 lead less than four minutes into the contest. After pushing its early advantage to 16-3 at the 15:58 mark, the Moccasins went cold and were held scoreless for over three minutes as the Spartans mounted a 13-0 run to tie things up. The teams traded jabs back and forth throughout the rest of the first half before Tampa finally gained the upper hand.
- With the scored tied at 26-26, the Spartans scored the next four points to snag their largest lead of the game at 30-26. Despite pulling within two on several occasions in the remainder of the half, the Mocs went into the locker room trailing by five (40-35). Florida Southern shot just 39.3 percent (11-of-28) in the first half while Tampa connected on 48.4 percent (15-of-31) from the floor.
- The Moccasins trailed for almost the first four minutes of the second half before Slinky Jones tied things at 47-47 with a three-pointer at the 15:56 mark. The Spartans were able to get back in front on the next possession and led 57-56 with less than 11 minutes to play, but Releford drilled a shot from long range with 10:32 to play to put the Mocs up by two. He would connect from deep again just moments later to put Florida Southern in front for good (62-59) with just over eight minutes to go.
- Tampa sliced the deficit to one (66-65) with 2:46 to play, but Jonathan Lawton hit a pair of free throws just seconds later to push the lead back to three and the Mocs hit key shots down the stretch and did what they needed at the free-throw line to hold off the Spartans.
- Florida Southern ended the game shooting 40.0 percent from the floor, including 10-of-27 from three, while the Spartans connected on 39.1 percent from the floor. Tampa hit just 4-of-15 three-pointers and turned the ball over 14 times. Lawton led the Mocs with 16 points, while Jones and Releford each had 12. Lawton, Jones and Kai Cleary tallied five rebounds apiece, and Lawton dished out seven assists. Alberto Moreno was Tampa's top scorer with 17 points, while Vincent Biffle (16) and Devon Colley (10) also scored in double figures.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
- Florida Southern improved to 93-54 all-time against the Spartans, including a 54-23 record when facing Tampa at home. The Moccasins have won 21 of the last 24 meetings between the two squads, including 10 of the last 11 in Lakeland.
- Moccasin head coach Mike Donnelly picked up the 242nd win of his coaching career. He is 242-201 in 16 seasons as a collegiate head coach, including a 47-49 record in four seasons with the Mocs.
- Brett Hanson scored eight points to push his career total to 1,052. He is now tied with Frank DeSavino for 32nd in school history. Lawton increased his career point total at Florida Southern to 812, and needs just 188 more to become the 43rd player in school history with 1,000 points in a Moccasin uniform. He has scored 1,375 points in his collegiate career, with 563 coming in his first two seasons at St. Thomas Aquinas before transferring to FSC.
- At halftime of Wednesday's game, former Moccasin Cedric Powell (1999-2002) and his family presented a $25,000 check to Florida Southern College President Dr. Anne Kerr and Director of Athletics Pete Meyer. The check was presented for the Cedric and Dr. Donna Powell Endowed Scholarship for Men's Basketball. Also at halftime, national championship rings were presented to former men's golfer John VanDerLaan and current men's swimmer Matthew Holmes for winning individual national titles in their respective sports last year.
- Florida Southern will host Embry-Riddle at 7:30 p.m. next Wednesday in the fourth of seven-straight home games. The Mocs will also face Lindenwood (Dec. 15), Cedarville (Dec. 18) and Bloomfield (Dec. 19) to close out the homestand.