MANATEE -- The State College of Florida basketball team did what it was built to do.
The Manatees ran St. Petersburg College ragged to earn a 93-73 Suncoast Conference victory on Wednesday night at Hal Chasey Gym.
With only two games left in the regular season, the triumph puts SCF in control of its own destiny. If the Manatees win their final two games they will capture the conference championship and earn a trip to the state tournament.
Going up against a bigger SPC squad, SCF (22-6, 5-2) never stopped running and pressured the ball most of the game. The Titans couldn't keep up with the frenetic pace, and the Manatees broke the game open in the second half.
SCF placed five players in double figures. The Manatees got a big boost from 6-foot-1 Savad Garner, who finished with 19 points (8-of-13 shooting) despite playing in the post most of the game.
"We just came out and played hard. I don't believe a lot of teams can run with us because we run so much in practice," Garner said. "Our coaches preach to run teams out of the gym and get them tired. It gets tough sometimes having bigger guys guard me, but my teammates help me out. We are in a must-win situation now."
SCF led 53-46 with 15:55 left in the game when it started to pull away. Isaiah Williams drained a trey and then broke free downcourt for a layup. Daunte Johnson got another layup to push the lead to 60-46.
SPC (12-16, 2-5) trailed 67-51 when Garner sparked a 10-3 run with eight points as SCF took a commanding 77-54 lead with 7:56 remaining.
Point guard Michael Sanchez led SCF with 22 points and had six assists and four steals. Williams finished with 15 points and eight rebounds. Denzel Myers had 14 points and four steals, Johnson had 11 points, and Obinna Oieka led the Manatees on the boards with 11 rebounds.
"We came in knowing if we play our game and run and keep the pressure on hopefully we would be able to wear them down a little bit," SCF head coach Brock Erickson said. "We are fourth in the country in field-goal percentage (53 percent), and it's because we continuously run and get a lot of those breakaway layups."
SCF dropped to second in the nation in scoring (99.1 ppg), but it didn't matter to Erickson.
"At this point, we need wins, and that's the only thing that counts. They were a lot bigger than us, as most teams are," the coach said. "Savad is probably the heart and soul of our team. He is a relentless worker and plays so hard, which is what we hang our hat on. He is a 6-1 post player but has so much energy and outworks everybody."
SCF connected on 34 of 70 field-goal attempts, while SCF shot 27-for-71. The Manatees were 7-of-15 from beyond the arc and forced 19 turnovers with 11 steals.
SPC was led by Reggie Smalls, the former Bradenton Herald Player of The Year from Southeast. The 6-foot freshman guard tallied 18 points, connecting on 6 of 12 shots, and dished out two assists.
SCF plays at Polk State College Saturday and finishes up the regular season Wednesday at home against Hillsborough. The winner of the four-team conference earns an automatic bid to the state tournament. The other three teams battle it out for the other state tourney bid.
SPC has gone to the state tournament five straight years.