As the men’s basketball season reaches its midpoint, the Spartans currently sit in the middle of the Sunshine State Conference (SSC) standings with a conference record of 4-5 as of right now.
The difficulty of playing in the SSC has begun to wear on the Spartans as they have lost three of their last four games.
However, the losses the Spartans have suffered have been close and well fought. The Spartans only have one recorded double-digit loss this season and have just been unable to secure wins as the clock winds down.
“It’s like we run out of gas,” said head coach Richard Schmidt. “We get leads but just don’t have the depth to hold onto them.”
Coach Schmidt is in his thirty-second season at the University of Tampa and has successfully taken the Spartans to the NCAA Tournament 16 times. He has only had three seasons with a losing record and is determined not to make this season his fourth.
“We have had some really tough losses against some really good basketball teams this season,” Schmidt said. “This conference is grueling but hopefully we can start a comeback and get good positioning for the conference tournament.”
While all nine conference teams are granted admission into the SSC Tournament the seeding of the teams makes a large impact. The top three teams of the conference are the most coveted spots as they have less games to play in order to reach the championship game.
Last year, the Spartans were granted the third seed and were able to get into the championship game before falling to Florida Southern.
However, the Spartans’ road to the championship game is tougher this year than in past seasons. Sitting above them in the standings are some of the best teams in the nation.
Florida Southern and Barry are the third and fourth best teams in the nation, respectively and Lynn has been dropping in and out of the top 25 throughout the season.
The Spartans have been unable to win against the three thus far but the losses weren’t blowouts, and the Spartans have been able to hold their own against the top SSC teams.
“It’s going to be tough to get past those guys and the other teams in this conference,” Schmidt said. “But I still think we have a good team. Our freshmen are stepping up and are more experienced players are getting the job done.”
The Spartans have played particularly well on the court this season despite their mediocre record. They lead opponents in all major stat categories (points, rebounds, assists, etc.) except for shooting from three-point range.
Defending three-point shots has been a major issue for the Spartans and it cost them the win last Saturday as Nova Southeastern University sank 15 of their 31 three-point attempts. On the offensive side of the ball, the Spartans have developed into a proficient scoring team, with three players averaging over 15 points a game.
Senior guard Jordan Davis has been the facilitator of the offense and is sixth in the nation in assists per game (6.7). “Davis can see things three plays ahead and it helps keep this team together,” said senior forward Eugene McCrory.
McCrory is a recent transfer to UT and leads the team in both points per game (17.7) and rebounds per game (9.6). With seven double-doubles, McCrory has become a force to be reckoned with on the court.
Another strong component to the Spartans’ offense has been sophomore Austin Rettig, who has played in many positions on the court.
Rettig has an average of 15. 1 points per game and has developed into another option for coach Schmidt to utilize.
One of the players with the biggest impact has been freshman forward Othniel “Duke” Shelton. At a monstrous size of 6-8, Shelton makes his presence on the court known and he is a threat that opponents must take note of.
“We lost a lot of our seniors from last year and needed our guys new to the program to come through for us,” Schmidt said. “Duke is playing better and our other players are stepping up in huge ways. Everything is coming together, but we just need to keep it together for the whole game.”
Despite a well-disciplined team, Schmidt and his Spartans are fighting for a higher seed before the SSC tournament begins.
With a series of upcoming games against opponents they have already defeated this season (Florida Tech, Eckerd, Saint Leo and Rollins), the Spartans will be looking to build momentum before closing out the regular season with games against Florida Southern and Barry.
“It’s not going to be easy. Not by any means. It’s going to be tough to try and win this conference, but it’s important that we focus now and win these next games,” Schmidt said.
Marcus Mitchell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org