WINTER PARK, Fla. (January 10, 2018) – Down one with time winding down, Jakobi Bonner found Jeff Merton at the top of the key and the senior drilled the game winning 3-pointer at the buzzer, giving Rollins a 71-69 victory over Tampa on Wednesday night.
The Tars (10-7, 6-3 Sunshine State Conference) held a two-possession lead in the final minutes, but couldn't close the door on the pesky Spartans (7-7, 3-5 SSC). Pat Bacon drew a foul with 7.8 seconds left and gave UT a 69-68 lead with a pair of free throws. Connor Mckim took the Rollins inbound and found a streaking Bonner up the left side. He ran into a UT double-team, but found a wide-open Merton two steps beyond the arc for the winner that dropped in the net as the buzzer went off.
Sam Philpott led the Tars with 16 points and nine rebounds. Merton totaled 15 points, all in the second half, on 6-of-8 shooting. Mckim added 13 points and six boards while Jack Fleming netted 11 off the bench.
Anthony Gamble topped Tampa with 17 points while Bacon filled the box score with 16 points, nine assists and five rebounds. Both players were on the court for more than 39 minutes on the night.
The win put Rollins into a second-place tie in the Sunshine State Conference standings with one game left in the first half of the league slate.
Rollins shot 49 percent (26-53) from the field and 10-of-13 at the stripe. UT was 43 percent shooting (24-56) and hit 15 three-pointers. The Tars won on the glass, outrebounding the visitors 36-24.
The game was close throughout with seven points serving as Rollins largest lead of the night. The contest also featured seven ties and 17 lead changes.
Tampa took its largest lead of the game early, grabbing an 18-13 advantage with 8:53 to play in the first half. Fleming put the Tars back on top 24-22 with a deep three-pointer at the 4:49 mark. The senior would later tie the game heading into the break with another three-pointer to knot the score at 33 all.
The Tars raced out to a 46-41 advantage after the first six minutes of the second. UT answered with an 8-0 run over the next two minutes and went on top 49-46. Merton tied the score with a triple and Rollins went on a run of its own as a Bonner three-pointer put the Tars in front 58-51 midway through the half.
Rollins' advantage stood at 66-59 with 4:10 to play. Mekhi Biffle closed the gap for UT with a three-pointer and Philpott got the spread back to five with a free throw. Bacon hit a driving layup with 43 seconds to make the score 67-64. Rollins split free throws and Gamble made the Tars pay with a three-pointer to cut the lead to just 68-67 with 23 ticks left. Bacon then drew a foul on Mckim and got both at the line to set up the thrilling final play for the Tars.
Rollins will look to keep the momentum rolling Saturday January 13, traveling to Florida Southern for a 7:30 p.m. game in Lakeland. Fans can catch the action on the Tars Sport Network at SSC Digital Network at SunshineStateConfernece.tv.