TAMPA, Fla. (Men’s Basketball) – Florida Tech (21-5, 12-4 SSC) is bringing the Sunshine State Conference Regular Season Championship trophy to Melbourne following the Panthers’ 82-74 win over Tampa (6-20, 2-14 SSC) Saturday night at the Bob Martinez Sports Center.
The title is the program’s first outright championship and second overall championship in its 45-plus year history. Previously, the Panthers shared the league’s regular season crown with Tampa in 1989-90. To win the championship Saturday, they had to complete a regular-season sweep of Tampa, which had not been done since the 1993-94 season.
“This is a tremendous accomplishment for these young men and all that they’ve worked for this season,” head coach Billy Mims said. “We started off with a great group of seniors that had a lot of chemistry. Three of our seniors have been playing together all four years and they know this league. … I’ve been doing this job for 30 years now, and I don’t think I’ve ever coached a team that has more chemistry than this one.
“They’re family out there. Every day at the end of practice, the team’s leader and co-captain Simon Cummings comes in the middle and they would say ‘family’ before they broke the huddle. The only time they changed that was a couple of days ago. On Thursday, Simon went into the huddle and the team said ‘champions.’ … Through this season, 21-5 now, we never lost twice in a row. Every time we lost a game, we bounced back. We finished the (regular) season on a six-game win streak. My wife, Lynne, always says my teams have gotten better as the season went on. This team got better as the season went on.”
Tampa connected on 57.7 percent (15-of-26) of its shots in the first half and entered the locker room with a 38-30 halftime lead. Derek Hellemann provided 16 points in the opening period on 7-of-10 from the field and 2-of-4 from the free throw line.
In the second half, FIT worked its way back from a 10-point deficit by manufacturing a 16-0 run in four minutes and 38 seconds. A Spartan free throw halted the scoring spree, however, the Panthers’ advantage would increase to nine before Tampa’s Brian Wright hit a jump shot at the 10:03 mark.
Down the stretch, Simon Cummings netted several clutch jump shots, including one with 1:54 remaining, which extended his team’s lead to 72-65.
Anthony Jackson totaled a game-high 25 points and eight rebounds. Cummings supplied 21 points, 12 were recorded behind the arc. Hellemann finished with 19 points and Julius Reid had 10 with a team-high five assists.
By winning the regular season title, FIT earned the No. 1 seed in the SSC Tournament. On Wednesday, it will host the No. 8 seed, Lynn, at 7 p.m. at the Clemente Center. The semifinals will be held March 3 and finals March 4 at the Jenkins Field House on the campus of Florida Southern.
“We’ve gone 21-5, 8-0 at home in the SSC and we won half of our SSC games on the road,” Mims said. “That was our formula that we believed in since day one. Today we achieved that formula and proved that formula did produce a conference championship. This has been a year of success for our program and our kids. I’ve done this before professionally with other teams in Europe. I took Barry University to a Sunshine State Conference championship game at Rollins, but I’ve never had a group of young men deserve a title more than this group. We were eight down on the road and could have folded. We stepped up in the second half and we were not going to get beat. We played like champions.”
2012 SSC MEN’S BASKETBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
Quarterfinals – Wednesday, February 29
No. 8 Lynn at No. 1 Florida Tech, 7 p.m.
No. 7 Barry at No. 2 Eckerd, 7:30 p.m.
No. 6 Nova Southeastern at No. 3 Saint Leo, 7 p.m.
No. 5 Florida Southern at No. 4 Rollins, 7:30 p