Watching three higher-seeded teams fall by the wayside in the opening round of the Sunshine State Conference men's basketball tournament Friday had a sobering effect on the University of Tampa. Would the top-seeded Spartans be the next victim, against No. 8 seed Rollins?
With last Saturday's 20-point loss to a now-ousted Florida Southern College also weighing on their minds, the tournament-host Spartans smothered Rollins 84-54.
Tampa (20-7) reached 20 wins for the 10th time in 11 seasons under coach Richard Schmidt and emerged as the favorite to earn the NCAA tournament bid awarded to the tournament winner. Tampa has not won a conference tournament since 1985.
The Spartans face fifth-seeded Saint Leo (15-12) in a semifinal tonight at 8:30. Saint Leo eliminated Florida Tech 87-74 Friday. No. 2 seed Florida Southern lost 87-80 to North Florida, and No. 3 Barry was whipped by No. 6 Eckerd 83-63.
"I thought we stuck them early with some defense and that set the tone for the game," Schmidt said. "Right now (guards) Gregg Bott and Reggie Larry are coming off the bench and playing as well as the starters."
Bott scored a season-high 13 points and Larry added seven, leading a bench effort that contributed 42 points, half of UT's total.
First-team All-SSC picks Idris Mays (19 points) and DeCarlo Deveaux (15) were too much for Rollins from the outset Friday. Mays hit 6 of 8 shots in the first half for 13 points, and Deveaux scored 12 points before intermission on 5-for-8 shooting. UT led 15-6, 44-26 at halftime, and 54-28 with 15:31 remaining.
"I thought we got out-toughed tonight," Rollins coach Tom Klusman said. "Tampa played aggressive defense, and we didn't handle it. The upsets today didn't help us at all. Tampa was very aware and didn't want that to happen."
Rollins (11-16) outrebounded the Spartans 40-26, but the Tars committed 28 turnovers to Tampa's 14. UT made nine three-pointers, while Rollins hit one of 11 shots from long range.
_ DAVID BRACKMAN