MANATEE -- Decimated by off-the-court issues and injuries, the State College of Florida men’s basketball team has endured a season to forget.
But in their home regular season finale, the Manatees gave themselves something to remember when they sprung a 63-51 victory on Polk State College.
The triumph avenged two losses to the Vikings (17-12 and 5-3 Suncoast Conference) and gave the Manatees (2-6, 6-17) hope as they prepare for the postseason.
SCF plays Hillsborough on Feb. 25 in the conference tournament opener, and the winner will be at Polk for the right to qualify for the state tournament. The Manatees are at Hillsborough on Wednesday; the winner secures home court for their first-round tournament game.
“This win means a lot because we believe if we play hard we can play with anyone,” said freshman guard Denzel Myers, who had a game-high 20 points. “We said this victory can resurrect our season, and we’ve got some momentum going now. We lost a lot of starters, but it has always been next man up and everyone is stepping up.
“The difference tonight was our effort. This was Sophomore Night, and we refused to let our sophomores to go out with a loss. We wanted them to go out in style.”
Myers (12.4 points per game), SCF’s only double-figure scorer left, led the Manatees with four assists and was tied for second with six rebounds. He scored 13 points in the second half.
The 6-foot guard from North Carolina was the only SCF player to notch double digit scoring, but the Manatees had a balanced attack with three others getting nine points in Elias Gutierrez, Giannis Stavriandis and 6-8 Nigerian sophomore Odi Onyekachukwu, who also had a team-high eight rebounds.
SCF took a 35-22 halftime lead and seemed in control of the game. But Polk opened the second half with eight straight points and cut its deficit to 35-30.
The Vikings closed their deficit to 45-41 with 10 minutes left, but SCF pushed the lead back up to nine points on two free throws by Myers and a 3-pointer from freshman Ryan Steed.
The closest Polk could get after that was 50-44 at the 7:57 mark. The Manatees outscored the Vikings 13-7 the rest of the way, limiting them to two fields on 10 shots. Myers scored seven of his points in the final 7:35.
“This win was really important to us because we’ve had a lot of adversity and lost a lot of players,” SCF head coach Joe Whelton said. “This is not the same team we were and consequently suffered some losses so it’s good for the guys because their morale was down. They just beat a good team today, and this is a good time to do it.
“The key today was our defense. They only scored 51 points, and we rebounded better than when we played them before and had more balanced scoring. We usually rely on Myers and Odi to score and other people helped.”
SCF outrebounded Polk 34-29 and had a 13-9 advantage on the offensive glass. The Manatees also came up with 12 steals led by Myers four and caused 21 turnovers.