The Florida Southern men’s basketball team went into the post-season strong with a seven-game winning streak as they hoped to make it to regionals and ultimately the national championship.
On Feb. 28, the men faced off against Lynn in the Sunshine State Conference quarterfinal matchup. The Mocs dominated the first three minutes of play and led seven to zero but then failed to score for almost eight minutes as the Knights caught up.
Although the Mocs never fell behind the Knights, the game tied 39 to 39 shortly into the second half. Freshman Trey Diggs went on to score 17 points in the second half, and the strong offensive performance by Trey Diggs, Brett Hanson and Jonathan Lawton led to a 80 to 70 victory for the Mocs.
“We all felt confident and knew we had as good a chance as anybody to come out of the region,” FSC basketball team manager Jonathan Hibbard said. “Having the experience of fighting to the very end of a lot of our games prepared us for postseason.”
Following their victory over the Knights, FSC moved forward to play against Eckerd in the SSC semifinals on March 3 in the Jenkins Field House.
The Mocs and Tritons went shot for shot during the first half of the game as they traded the lead several times, but Diggs managed to score and give the Mocs a 36 to 33 lead going into halftime.
Florida Southern scored 11 points after falling behind by eight during the middle of the second half to lead 57 to 55. The Tritons then made two three-pointers as well as a pair of free-throws with 25 seconds left, managing to outscore the Mocs 74 to 72. Although
Jonathan Lawton and Ben Marello put on an impressive performance and scored 29 and 18 points respectively, the team was unable to walk away with a win. After losing the semifinal game, the Mocs had to wait until the next evening during the NCAA Division II Selection show to find out whether they would be participating in NCAA Tournament.
During the late evening of March 4, the men found out they would be traveling to Atlanta to participate in the NCAA Division II South Regional and face number one ranked Morehouse in the regional quarterfinals. “
It was a horrible feeling losing, but finding out that we made the tournament got rid of that feeling instantly,” junior team member Myles Wilkins said. “We were all elated because we knew our team had more basketball left in us, and we would have a chance to prove it at the NCAA tournament.”
Florida Southern prepared to take on the Morehouse Maroon Tigers at Forbes Arena on Feb. 10, but the Tigers scored nine straight points to lead nine to five after the first five minutes of play. With seven minutes remaining in the first half, the Tigers led 24 to 21 and continued to outscore the Mocs to take a 46 to 35 lead going into the second half.
The Tigers’ lead continued to grow early into the second half, and things looked grim for the Mocs as they trailed by 21 points with only 15 minutes left in the game.
The Mocs managed to close the gap and trailed by only seven points with just over two minutes remaining in the game.
After Lawton hit a three-pointer with 57 seconds remaining, the Mocs made an unforeseen comeback against the top-ranked team and tied 89 to 89, sending the game into overtime.
“During the game against Morehouse, there were times things weren’t going our way but we never went our separate ways,” Wilkins said. “We had been in games like this all year with late comebacks and overtime, so we all stayed composed and just took it one possession at a time.”
In overtime, Morehouse opened with a three-point lead, but Jack Rauch hit a pair of free throws to make it a one-point game with just under two minutes of play remaining.
The Mocs tied the game and went shot for shot with the Tigers, but freshman Tyler Smith hit a layup with 17 seconds remaining which put the Mocs ahead 98 to 97 and secured the win.
“Even though were down quite a bit against Morehouse, there was an overwhelming belief that we could win, and we did,” Hibbard said.
After Eckerd beat Valdosta State 85 to 81 in their first round game, the Mocs had to face off against Eckerd once again after having lost to them less than a week earlier in the SSC semifinals.
The Mocs’ second game in Atlanta proved to be just as difficult as the first, as a poor shooting performance during the first half gave Eckerd a 31 to 20 halftime lead. The Mocs were able to cut their deficit down to seven points during the second half but were unable to get back in front.
After shooting just 28.6 percent, the Tritons walked away with a 90 to 77 victory over the Mocs and competed in the South Regional Championship game against Barry last Tuesday.
“Our team is going to grow and improve every day, and the experiences we had this season will prepare us for great things next season,” Wilkins said. “We will be ready to take a huge jump forward, and I’m looking forward to what we’ll accomplish.”
The end of the season marked the final game for seniors Tyler Ross and Luke St. Lifer. Although it was a difficult loss, the team looks forward to next years season as its players continue to grow.