Mocs eye return to big dance

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Photo by Sam Penizotto

Fresh off a Sunshine State Conference Tournament Championship, the Florida Southern College men’s basketball team enters the 2012-2013 season with high expectations.

The league’s coaches picked the Mocs to finish second in the SSC, behind only preseason favorite Saint Leo. With a strong core of players returning from last season’s NCAA Tournament squad, head coach Linc Darner has set the bar high for his team.

“Our expectations should be high, returning seven guys that played a lot last year,” Darner said. “We want to compete for the league, the conference tournament and hopefully make a run in the NCAA Tournament.”

The Mocs’ lofty goals have become even more difficult to reach due to injuries. Seniors Brett Bailey and Garrett Putman are both currently sidelined.

“Brett and Garrett are battling injuries right now and we don’t know how much they’ll play or be able to help us at the beginning of the year,” Darner said. “Those are two guys that have played a lot of minutes for us.”

While the timetables for Bailey and Putnam’s respective returns are uncertain, Darner noted that their absence provides an opportunity for other players.

“If they don’t play, somebody else has to step up and be ready to go. Injuries are a part of the game and it’s not an excuse,” Darner said. “Any time starters go down with injuries, other guys are going to get an opportunity to show us what they can do, which will only make us better. It’ll give guys experience here early on and it can be a good thing.”

While the injuries will help the team gain some valuable experience, the absence of Bailey and Putman was apparent in the Mocs first exhibition game, an 85-89 loss to St. Thomas.

“It was very evident in our first exhibition game when we couldn’t stop guys from scoring. Last year, we would just put Garrett on him whether it was a point guard or whoever,” Darner said.

Fortunately for the Mocs, the loss came in an exhibition game and allowed them to identify areas for improvement.

“I think it was good for us,” Darner said. “It exposed us in some areas we need to work on. I think guys are realizing we need to do a better job of handling the ball, a better job of getting the ball inside and a better job with our help defense.”

The loss also prompted the team to practice with more intensity.

“I think we practiced a lot harder. Now guys can see it on film and do it in practice,” Darner said. “But it’s easy in practice, let’s see if we can carry it over to games.”

The Mocs will look to start the regular season strong on Nov. 20 when they take on Puerto Rico-Bayamon in their home opener.

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