Posted: Feb 06, 2020
FORT MYERS, Fla.- The #1 Florida SouthWestern State Men's Basketball team has done a lot during their current 18 game winning streak. One thing they haven't had to do much is play from behind, and that is exactly what they had to do for 20 minutes Wednesday night as a determined Polk State squad came in looking to dethrone the Bucs from both the top of the Suncoast and NJCAA standings. FSW had trouble scoring early and fell behind by as many as 10 in the first half before settling for a 33-31 deficit at the half. But the second half was a different story as they heated up in front of a big home crowd to come away with an 81-75 win to improve to 25-1 on the year.
Things started well for the Bucs as they took the court as the nation's #1 ranked team for the first time this season as they jumped out to an early 4-0 lead on highlight reel dunks by guards Keon Ellis and Berrick JeanLouis. A hook shot from Simeon Kirkland moments later kept the Bucs in front, but from there, there was a lid on the basket on the South side of Suncoast Credit Union Arena. FSW went scoreless over the next 3:54 as Polk State went on an 11-0 run to take a 14-6 lead on the Bucs with 11:48 to go in the half. Things continued to be tough for the Bucs later in the half as their deficit grew to 10 to the chagrin of the 1,000 plus on hand to watch the battle between the Suncoast's top two teams. A dunk in transition by Jalen Finch got FSW pointed back in the right direction and slowly the Bucs trimmed the points off the Eagles lead, eventually cutting it to just two before the break at 33-31.
FSW shot just 39% in the half while Polk hit on 44% of their attempts and the Bucs were off target on all six three point shots in the first 20 minutes while the Eagles drained 56% from deep. The Bucs remained in the game thanks to two facets of the game as they outscored Polk 10-0 in points off turnovers and 16-5 in transition in the half.
The second half began with Polk getting a big blocked shot and then an easy layup in transition to take a four point lead. From there the Bucs tightened the screws on the defensive end and turned it into offense on the other end. A three from Ellis at the 18:26 mark gave the Bucs their first lead since the opening moments of the game and it sparked them on a 13-0 run over the next six minutes that turned a four point deficit into a nine point lead at 44-35 with 14:30 to go. Polk cut the lead back to five with 11:53 remaining before another big run for the Bucs, this time an 11-0 burst, stretched their lead out to 59-43 with 9:22 left. The Bucs looked like they were in the clear as Jermaine Marshall spun and scored in the paint to put them up 17 with 3:53 left on the clock, but the Eagles had other ideas. In the blink of an eye, it was a single digit game and at the 1:00 mark, the FSW lead was down to just six at 77-71. The Bucs left the door open with a number of missed free throws down the stretch, but Finch connected on three of four and Ellis another split at the line to close out an 81-75 win for FSW.
Ellis led the Bucs with a game high 28 points in the victory. Marshall recorded his now FSW record ninth double-double of the year with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Finch was outstanding once again at the point for the Bucs, going for 17 points and 6 assists without a single turnover in the win.
FSW wins their 18th straight to become the first team in the country to 25 wins. They improve to 25-1 overall and take a huge step to their third straight Suncoast Conference title, moving to 8-0 in league play, three games up, plus the tiebreaker on the next two teams with four games to go. Polk State falls to 18-7 overall and 5-3 in conference play.
The Bucs are back in action on Saturday when they host St. Petersburg in an early 12 PM tip from Suncoast Credit Union Arena in Fort Myers.