The Spartans men’s basketball team started the season strong, slipped in the middle, rebounded near the end and fell in the most important game of the year.
The 71-55 loss to Nova Southeastern in the quarterfinals of the Sunshine State Conference tournament leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of Spartan fans. A promising 5-1 start quickly melted as the team moved to 9-6 (1-6 SSC). The highlights of the season included a 80-71 victory over fifth-ranked Rollins in December and then another win against Rollins in February when the Tars were ranked 18th.
The Spartans won six of seven before falling to Eckerd in a game Athletic Director Larry Marfise described as “embarrassing.” The loss was the worst in UT history since coach Richard Schmidt took over. Schmidt was ejected from the game and the Tritons were given 45 free throws for the course of the game. The Spartans attempted 14.
The last two games of the year were frustrating losses to NSU. Both were marked by poor shooting as the Spartans hit 36.5 percent in the regular season finale and 31 percent in the SSC tournament match.
There is no reason this team cannot compete at a greater level next year. Despite only having one senior, the team was picked to finish third in the conference by the local media. The Spartans will return everyone except for Matt Pezzullo. Pezzullo started at the beginning of the season, but injuries and other players stepping up caused him to miss play time.
“We have plenty more people to step up,” said sophomore guard Johnathan Ball. Ball scored 10 in the loss to the Sharks, the second highest for UT.
Next year’s team will feature plenty of talent and experience. Chris Evans and Jeremy Black will both be seniors. Black was first team All-SSC this season. Chris King showed the ability this season to take over a game, and he will return as a senior.
Transfers Jeffrey Moore and Jeff James will both be seniors next season and should contribute heavily to a battle-tested team that should be ready to compete in the SSC.
The SSC tournament was held this year at Lynn University in Boca Raton. A miserable four-hour drive away, Boca is an interesting place. The population is a lot older than that of Tampa, and the traffic is horrendous. It’s hot, humid and feels like July.
Lynn University is a unique place as well. During the second half of the game, a power surge caused the lights to flicker in the de Hoernle Center. Only half of them recovered, and the game was put on hold.
The arena only seats about 800, and there were 113 people there. Not exactly the March Madness atmosphere.
This is the second SSC tournament The Minaret sports section has attended. Last year’s tournament in St. Leo ended just as quickly, with the Spartans falling to Eckerd.
Maybe we’re bad luck.
The most interesting quote of the tournament came from Nova coach Gary Tuell about David Naylor: “I love him. I love him! Without him, we’re a donut. With him, he’s our cream filling. I love him.”
Thanks, coach. I’m sure David loves you too.