TAMPA -- This time, they got it right.
The State College of Florida men’s basketball team revved up its defensive intensity and defeated host Hillsborough Community College 78-68 on Monday night in a Suncoast Conference Tournament semifinal.
The victory keeps the Manatees alive for at least one more night. They will visit St. Petersburg College at 7 p.m. today with the winner earning a berth in the state tournament.
Last week, SCF (10-14) lost its regular season finale to Hillsborough (12-19), forcing the Manatees to go on the road for this tournament contest. The defeat provided all the incentive the team seemed to need.
“We knew to win we had to win the battle of the boards and the battle at the free throw line,” SCF sophomore point guard Josh Mason said. “It was very painful when we lost to them. It was Sophomore Night and to lose in double overtime after we were up 16 left a bad taste in our mouths. Our careers could’ve ended today and we didn’t want that to happen.”
John Miller led SCF with 29 points, and Mason put in 20 while dishing out seven assists and pulling in five rebounds.
But the key was defense.
In Hillsborough’s win last week, Justin Edwards, who has signed with Valparaiso, touched up the Manatees for 30 points. This time he was limited to 16.
The Manatees also got a big game out of freshman Reggie Baity. The Palmetto High graduate scored nine points, hit four straight clutch free throws in the last minute to ice the game and had a key rebound.
“He grew up, and we needed that,” SCF head coach Reggie Bellamy said. “Tonight we tried to put a more athleticism on the court to contain them a little better. We tried to jam Edwards and make sure we didn’t leave him alone. Baity and (Bobby) Thomas played with real intensity on the defensive end,”
SCF was holding on to a 60-56 lead when Miller and Baity hit back-to-back treys to send the Manatees ahead 66-56 with 4:12 left. Marquee Teal got a put-back to increase the margin to 68-58 with 2:38 remaining.
Derrian Bell buried a trey for Hillsborough, and the Hawks went to fouling over the last 1:25 of the game.
SCF responded by nailing 10 straight free throws to maintain its advantage. Miller, Mason and Da’Verick Hunt hit each hit two apiece and Baity then dropped in four straight, his last two coming with 39 seconds left to give SCF a 78-66 advantage.
A key for SCF was its perimeter defense, which was almost non-existent in its loss to Hillsborough. The Manatees limited the Hawks to four treys in 15 attempts and in the last 11 minutes of the games HCC misfired on eight of nine attempts from 3-point land.
“After we lost to Hillsborough last week, we walked into the locker room and coach (Arthur) Larkins asked them if they could win the next game. They said yes and I walked out of the locker room and said let’s go,” Bellamy said.
SCF was consistent from the foul line knocking down 26 of 32 attempts while Hillsborough was 24 for 34. The Manatees came up with seven steals and had a 36-31 edge on the boards, including a 14-10 advantage in offensive rebounds.
The defense was at its best during a six-minute stretch of the second half beginning with 9:26 left when Hillsborough trailed 60-55 and then missed six straight shots and turned the ball over four times.
“This game we didn’t rush anything compared to the last game,” Miller said. “We counted on each other and trusted each other. Josh Mason is very athletic and was very good. We really played together this game.”
SCF’s other double-figure scorer was Markee Teal, who had 14 points and tied Hunt for rebound honors with six. The Manatees defense also limited HCC 7-footer Joshua Florveus, a Georgia signee, to 11 points and one rebound.