by Ben Jansen
The University of Tampa men’s and women’s basketball teams opened their 2019-2020 seasons on Saturday, Nov. 9. The men traveled to Montavello, Alabama to play in the Sunshine State Conference/Gulf South Conference Crossover Classic. While the women stayed in Tampa, hosting the Opening Weekend Spartan Crossover at the Bob Martinez Sports Complex.
The UT women’s basketball team has high expectations for the season, coming off an NCAA tournament appearance and being pegged as the conference favorite in the SSC preseason poll. The Spartans made that prediction look promising, as they opened their year with a dominant 78-46 win over Spring Hill College.
Tampa played a fundamentally sound game, beating Spring Hill in every statistical category besides bench points, and a tie in the turnover category. Kris Nelson led the way for the Spartans with 18 points, with all five starters posting double-digit point totals.
LaShayla Wright-Ponder led the team on the glass with 11 rebounds on top of her 15 points for a double-double. The Spartans shot the lights out shooting 50% from the field, 47% from three, and a perfect 16 for 16 from the free-throw line.
It was a quick turnaround for UT, as they faced off against West Georgia the next day. The Spartans fought hard in a back and forth game but, ultimately lost a heartbreaker 69-67 to fall to 1-1 on the season. Tampa topped the Wolves in field goal percentage, rebounds, assists, and points in the paint, but was slaughtered in the turnover battle 19-9, which ultimately cost them the game down the stretch with six turnovers in the final quarter swinging the game in West Georgia’s favor.
“We have prided ourselves and built our reputation on defending and limiting turnovers,” said women’s head coach, Tom Jessee. “That’s what cost us the game on Saturday. We have eight new players on this team that still has not figured out our identity”
Despite the loss, Tampa still had a handful of strong individual performances. LaShayla Wright-Ponder led all scorers with 22 points, while Dori Nagy posted a 20 point, 13 rebound double-double. The Spartans shot the ball well once again, shooting 53% from the field, but saw a drop in three-point percentage at 30% and free throws at 87.5%.
The Tampa men’s basketball team opened their year with an away game against Montevallo. It was a back and forth game to start the year, as the Spartans trailed by seven at halftime before taking the lead in the second half before falling by a score of 72-64. After missing nearly all of last year due to injury, senior guard Pat Bacon returned for UT and made his presence felt, leading the Spartans with 21 points and three assists.
“It felt good being back out there,” said Bacon. “It was weird being out for so long but these two games got me back in the flow of things and I’m ready for the rest of the season.”
The rest of the Spartans struggled, however, as no starters besides Bacon topped double figures and the only other player with 10 or more points was Jonathan Bryant, who came off the bench to post 10 points. UT struggled shooting the ball, shooting 39% from the field, and a lackluster 29% from behind the arc. Vincent Biffle led the Spartans with seven rebounds, as UT was narrowly edge 34-30 in the rebound category.
Tampa came back the next day at the same arena, with a matchup against NO. 16 nationally ranked, Alabama-Huntsville. Pat Bacon once again led UT in scoring, this time with 22, and was helped by Vincent Biffle and Jonathan Bryant, who poured in 18 points each. Bacon also led the Spartans in rebounding, grabbing six boards.
Once again, Tampa struggled shooting the basketball. While their field goal percentage was bumped up to 46%, the three-point shooting was abysmal, shooting only 1-10 (10%) from deep. On top of that UT only shot 65% from the free-throw line. Despite the struggles, the Spartans still managed to play a close game with one of Division II basketball’s top teams, falling to Alabama Huntsville by a score of 75-68.
The men’s basketball team returns to Florida next weekend to play in the St. Leo Crossover Classic on Saturday and Sunday, while the women have a long layoff, with their next game not being until Nov. 23 at home.
Ben Jansen can be reached at email@example.com