WINTER HAVEN The State College of Florida men’s basketball team was hoping to erase a season full of woe and disappointment.
Instead a lot of the problems the Manatees encountered throughout the year surfaced as they dropped a 72-56 decision to host Polk State College Monday night in the Suncoast Conference Tournament championship game.
The victory sends the Eagles (18-13) to the Florida Junior College State Tournament next week in Marianna. It ends the season for the Manatees (7-19), who were hoping to become the conference Cinderella team and earn a trip under first-year coach Joe Whelton.
SCF pulled off an upset in the conference semifinal when it defeated Hillsborough CC on Saturday with some deadly outside shooting and tough defense. But the Manatees didn’t get a lot of good looks against the Eagles man-to-man defense and were 6 for 21 from beyond the arc.
Polk State College blistered the nets from 3-point land in the first half knocking down 5 of 8 attempts and finished shooting 7 of 13 on its three-point attempts.
“I give the Polk credit. They played a good game, and their defense really bothered us,” Whelton said. “We only got 56 points. They were quicker than us on defense and it was tough for us to get the ball to Odi (Onyekachukwu) with them doubling teaming him and on the other end they made some shots they normally don’t make.”
The Eagles converted 19 of 24 free throw attempts and finished the game connected on 23 of 43 field goal attempts (53.5 percent). SCF struggled from the field converting 21 of 52 shots.
Polk State College had a balanced attack with three players in double figures led by Sidney Sanders’ 15 points, and the Eagles had seven players with seven or more points.
Freshman Denzel Myers kept SCF in the game, finishing with a team-high 14 points on 6 of 13 shooting. The only other Manatees player in double figures was freshman Ryan Steed with 11 points.
The Eagles defense really clamped down on “Odi” denying the 6-foot-8 Nigerian the ball throughout almost the entire second half, and he finished his career with eight points, a game high 10 rebounds and four blocked shots.
SCF stayed with Polk State College in the first half and held an 18-13 lead midway through the period. The Eagles went on a 14-2 run and took a 34-28 lead at intermission.
“The first half I thought they were lucky to have a six-point lead. We started the second half good, came out and played well and cut it to two points,” Whelton said.
“Then a couple of calls went against us and they take two baskets away from us on offensive fouls and it’s tough for us to get 60 or 70 points. It just went against us, but give them credit.”
Palmetto High graduate Reggie Baity, who lit it up from 3-point land in the semis and scored 17 points, struggled with his shots. The sophomore finished his career with six points and was 1 for 7 on treys.
“The season has been long and been a challenge. I just wish all those guys we had at the start of the season finished the season,” Whelton said.
“Those are lessons you’ve got to learn, and it was bad luck with Eric Halliwell (6-8 sophomore from Sarasota High) going down with appendicitis. He was our MVP, and we were playing without him. I am happy we had the win the other night. It was the best game these group of guys played together.”