Benched Senior Sparks Spartans

Mindy Tucker

Coming into this season, senior Matt Pezzullo was primed to be the Tampa Spartans starting point guard.

After spending his junior season as a backup to Sunshine State Conference Player of the Year Mark Borders, he was ready for his chance to be a floor general.

With only two games left on this seasons schedule, Pezzullo has found himself in an unexpected place: the bench.

“I don’t really know why, but he seems to play better off the bench,” said coach Richard Schmidt. “I think him starting games on the bench lets him see what the team needs him to do when he comes into games.”

Schmidt chose Pezzullo as his starting point guard at the beginning of the season, and in the first three games it seemed to work with the team going 2-1. After that, injuries and some sicknesses have seen him start games and come off the bench in different waves.

“I sat out two games because of a thigh injury and we happened to win in those two games,” Pezzullo said. “Coaches don’t like to change things when they’re winning, so I started coming off the bench.”

Pezzullo took the demotion to the bench with class and started becoming an instant spark for the Spartans upon entering games.

He has ended up playing more minutes when he doesn’t start. Part of his improvement is due to more time in the gym.

“I have been 100 percent healthy since Nova Southeastern,” Pezzullo said. “I have run extra in the gym even when it is not required.”

As a bench player, Pezzullo feels like he contributes just as much to the team as when he starts, but he does see differences in how the team plays.

“Since I started coming off the bench, we’ve began games slow and have had to climb way back out of big deficits,” said Pezzullo.

Most recently Pezzullo helped the Spartans climb out of one of those deficits against Lynn.

The Spartans were down for most of the game but found themselves within one point with four seconds left in the game.

That’s when Matt Pezzullo put himself in position under the basket to rebound a missed shot and tip in the game winner.

His game-winning shot kept the Spartans on a winning track as they have won six out of their last seven games.

For now, Pezzullo is content with his bench role, but hopes his improved play brings him back to where he stood at the beginning of the season.

“If I keep playing well I expect to start,” Pezzullo said.

For Spartan fans, Pezzullo can play wherever he wants just as long as he keeps helping the team continue to win.

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