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Eastern Florida Men's Basketball Makes Final Preparations for State Tournament Opening Game
March 4, 2014 - Eastern Florida's men's basketball team sprinted through a spirited 55-minute practice on Tuesday at the College of Central Florida gym in Ocala on the eve of its second consecutive appearance in the Florida College System Activities Association/NJCAA Division I Region 8 tournament.
Eastern Florida, winner of two straight FCSAA Southern Conference championships meets FCSAA Suncoast runner-up Polk State College at 6 p.m. Wednesday at CCF. The winner advances to Friday's semifinal against either defending national champion CCF or Chipola College.
The loser goes home.
Eastern Florida (then Brevard Community College) reached the tournament final last season, losing 63-58 to the College of Central Florida at Chipola.
Now the Titans are back and hungry for more.
"I'm ready to play, I wish we could play right now," said Eastern Florida sophomore and first-team all-conference selection Mike Kirkland who is making his second tournament appearance and in his hometown to boot.
"I'm excited. It's going to be fun. There's going to be a lot of energy coming out in the first game second time around. I'm just ready."
Kirkland naturally is looking forward to playing in front of friends and family but also appreciates getting another chance at the state title.
"We've got to put it all out there out on the court," he said. "We've just got to play as hard as we can play and play smart. Last year I felt like we were right there and all we had to do is get it.
"We have to match what we did last year and surpass that."
Surpassing last year's runner-up finish would mean a trip to the NJCAA Division I national tournament in Hutchinson, KS, an almost mystical place for junior college basketball.
"First time for me, it would be pretty special," Kirkland said of a trip to Hutchinson, known simply as Hutch to players and coaches across the NJCAA spectrum.
"I know coach (Jeremy Shulman) has been there with his old team and he talks about it so much. We want to get him back there."
Another player making his second state appearance is sophomore and all-conference second-team selection Jure Gunjina from Zagreb, Croatia.
He too is ready for an encore.
"I'm excited, getting ready to win it this year," said Gunjina. "I think we owe something to everyone because they underrated us last year. Hopefully we can are going to prove we can be the best in the state.
"We have to win every possession and give 120 percent."
The Titans were sent off Tuesday morning with a pep rally outside the Melbourne gym, which included these Public Safety Institute students who came out to wish the players well and pose with the team.
Eastern Florida enters the tournament coming off a 24-6 regular season, 10-2 in the conference, the same on both accounts as 2012-2013. Polk comes in at 17-4 overall and 5-4 in the conference.
The Eagles play more of a half-court game as opposed to Eastern Florida's up-tempo approach and at this point there are very few secrets in how an opponent will approach a high-profile game.
"I think Polk is very good and very well-coached," Titans head coach Jeremy Shulman said. "We've played them in the past and they are very physical and shoot the ball well."
Countered Polk head coach Matt Furjanic: "Shulman does a great job and any time that you can win your conference in Florida that is a big accomplishment with the talent you have in this state.
"We like to control the tempo. Of course, we don't want to play a game in the 40s, but then again we don't want a game in the 80s."
Polk has been excellent on defense, allowing its opponents to score just 61.9 points per game and make only 40 percent of their shots from the floor.
Shulman has confidence that his team is up to the challenge.
"This group plays very well together and we have a family atmosphere," Shulman said. "Plus, we've had excellent guard play and that is the basis of our system. This group has great chemistry and has gotten better as the season has gone on."
For complete information on the state tournament, including ticket information, visit https://cfpatriots.prestosports.com/tournament
For live webcast coverage of all games visit http://www.ihigh.com/collegeofcentralfla/