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Eastern Florida Men Gut Out 87-83 victory

Dec. 3, 2013 - Playing a team bent on revenge, Eastern Florida State College's men's basketball team weathered several second-half storms to defeat host State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota 87-83 on Tuesday night in Bradenton.

The hosts broke away from a four-point halftime lead to open up a 42-35 advantage with 17 minutes to play. But Eastern Florida went on an 11-minute, 7-second tear to lead 71-59 with 5:53 to go.

Things then got interesting.

SCF clawed back to within three at 71-68 with 3:57 to go only to see the Titans go ahead 75-68 on a thundering put-back dunk by sophomore Mike Kirkland. The Titans opened up an 80-72 lead on a bucket by sophomore Jure Gunjina with 1:06 to go but the Manatees got back to 82-81 with 25 seconds remaining.

Titans freshman Demetrius McReynolds then sank one free throw for an 83-81 lead and sophomore Ben Patrick and freshman T.J. Cromer buried two each in the final 10 seconds for the victory.

"That's a gutty win," said Eastern Florida head coach Jeremy Shulman. "That's a last year win," he added referencing the 2012-2013 team that won its conference title and advanced to the state championship game.

"On the road against a very talented team. They (SCF) played great. My hat's off to them. We gutted it out. We had some guys step up off the bench. So proud of the effort.

"We went small in the second half which we hadn't done all year, this small. This team has got so much versatility. We can go big. We can go small. We can make adjustments."

Kirkland credited the team's relentless approach.

"That was one of our main focuses," he said. "No matter if we are down 20 or up 20, we play hard, we play tough. Once we get going, get on a run we are unstoppable."

That was Cromer's assessment as well.

"We just had to play relentless," he said. "We didn't get discouraged. We kept pushing, kept pushing. We had the better team at the end of the day."

Kirkland led Eastern Florida with 21 points. Cromer tallied 19 and McReynolds 16 as the Titans improved to 7-1.

SCF fell to 1-10.

State College of Florida led 30-26 at the half, capping a skin-tight first 20 minutes in which the previous biggest lead also was four points, 25-21 for Eastern Florida with 2:53 to play.

But the Manatees erased that advantage as the Titans went cold and sophomores Gabriel Dos Santos and Obinna Oleka combined for the final nine points of the half.

Eastern Florida defeated State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota 92-66 on Nov. 25 in Melbourne.

And just like in the previous game Eastern Florida put together a second-half charge that gave it the cushion it needed.

Three consecutive steals led to two Kirkland baskets and a free throw by Cromer to expand a 57-54 lead to 64-54 with 7:50 to play. Cromer followed with a basket with 7:13 to play for a 66-54 lead with 7:13 remaining.

Eastern Florida came in at 6-1 riding a five-game winning streak. State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota came in at 1-9 having broken a season-opening nine-game losing streak with a home court victory over Miami Dade College on Friday, its first game with its full complement of players in uniform.

Manatees forwards Deonte Hearns and Obinna Oleka playing together for the first time, torched Miami Dade for a combined 49 points, 39 rebounds and 13 assists.

Oleka led the Manatees with 27 points on Tuesday. Sophomore Gabriel added 21 and Hearns 19.

Next up for Eastern Florida are home games on Friday and Saturday in the Melbourne Campus gym. The Titans play Cape Fear (NC) at 7 p.m. Friday and Florida State College Jacksonville at 3 p.m. on Saturday. Admission is free.