It has been a season of ups and downs for the Spartans, but they have cemented themselves as an elite team in the Sunshine State Conference (SSC). The Spartans finished their regular season with a conference record of 10-6 and 18-9 overall.
After a 4-5 record to start the season, the Spartans caught fire in February. The team has won six of their past seven league games, their only loss coming from national No. 1 Florida Southern College. The most recent win came this past Saturday, where the Spartans earned a 73-68 victory over No. 9 Barry University on the final day of the regular season.
“Our team has stepped up and we are starting to catch a few breaks that just didn’t happen at the beginning of the season,” said Head Coach Richard Schmidt . This season marks Schmidt’s thirtieth winning season in 32 years at the University of Tampa. “There are about four or five teams in this conference that are capable of going far this postseason,” Schmidt said. “And I feel that we are one of those top teams.”
Senior forward Eugene McCrory has taken a leading role in the team’s offense in his debut season for the Spartans since transferring from the University of Central Florida. McCrory leads the team with an average of 17 points per contest and also has a team-best 9.5 rebounds per game. He has put up double-digit points in all but one game and has recorded ten double-doubles this season.
Alongside McCrory is fellow senior guard Jordan Davis, who has scored 15.1 points per game in his second year at UT. Davis has been the court general for the Spartans and is a nationally respected playmaker. He has the highest average of minutes played per game (37.4) in program history, and has started every game this season. Davis leads the team in 3-point shots made (66) and has averaged 7.2 assists per game, fifth-best in the nation.
After playing just one game last season, junior forward Austin Rettig has developed into an everyday starter in Schmidt’s system. Averaging 14.9 points and 6.3 rebounds per game, Rettig has been able to consistently score for the Spartans.
Altogether, McCrory, Davis, and Rettig average 47 points per game and have become a trio to be feared in the SSC. However, it is the other players on the team that coach Schmidt believes have been deciding factors in getting the Spartans to where they are now.
“Kyle Middleton (guard) has been doing a good job for us on the defensive side of the ball and we are seeing players like Duke Shelton (forward) and Matt Johnson (guard) stepping into larger roles in our system,” Schmidt said. “We may lack the depth of some of these other teams in the league, but the players that we do have are making a big difference for us on the court.”
With the team getting a full week of rest before the games this weekend, Schmidt and the Spartans are expecting to enter the SSC Tournament fully healthy. The Spartans are entering the tournament as the third seed, but will face season nemesis Nova Southeastern University, who defeated the Spartans twice this season, in the opening round.
“It’s going to be really tough facing Nova after losing the series against them, but if we play well then the game could fall our way,” Schmidt said. Nova Southeastern gave the Spartans their only double-digit loss in the conference, but have lost five of their last seven games. If the Spartans manage to get past Nova, then they will likely have to face Barry in the semifinals and potentially Florida Southern in the finals. Despite the quality of their competition, the Spartans are not intimidated by the ranked opponents in the tournament. “We are hitting our stride right now and the whole team is performing well,” Davis said. “We honestly believe we can play with anyone in the nation.”
Marcus Mitchell can be reached at email@example.com