LAKELAND – Jack Rauch gave Brett Hanson a single look, and the result helped put Florida Southern College’s men’s basketball team into the Sunshine State Conference Tournament championship game.
Rauch hit Hanson on a long inbounds pass, and Hanson made the layup with 29 seconds left as the Mocs held on to beat a tough Embry-Riddle squad 80-77 in the semifinals of the SSC Tournament at Streamline Sale Arena inside Jenkins Field House on Thursday night.
It was a gutsy call, but Rauch and Hanson have developed a trust over four years of playing together that helped deliver the No. 1-seed Mocs from a spectator’s only seat in Sunday’s 1 p.m. title game against No. 2-seed Nova Southeastern.
"Jack gave me a look right away," Hanson said. "We’ve been playing long enough that I knew what it meant. He made a great pass and I was lucky enough to make a play on it."
The play happened right after Embry-Riddle’s Nick Heard hit a 3-pointer to cut the Mocs’ lead to 78-77 with 31 seconds remaining.
Rauch took the inbounds pass and heaved it three-quarters of the way down the court between two defenders to Hanson, who not only came up with the pass, but also beat both defenders to the basket for a layup and an 80-77 lead.
"That was a senior play," Florida Southern head coach Mike Donnelly said. "Those two guys have great chemistry. They trust each other. Jack’s a tremendous inbounder, and Brett’s the best finisher I have ever coached."
Florida Southern’s defense forced a missed shot at the other end with E.J. Dambreville grabbing a big rebound. The Mocs drained the clock to just under five seconds as Jalyn Hinton went to the line trying to ice the game.
Hinton missed both free throws, something that was a theme for the Mocs as they were just 15-for-30 from the charity stripe.
The misses gave Embry-Riddle (20-10) a chance to tie it, but again the Mocs’ defense came up big as the Eagles couldn’t get a shot off.
"It was a collective effort," Donnelly said. "Xavier Rhodes gave us clutch minutes, and I thought Brandon (Carroll) did a great job on Romeo Crouch. E.J. came up with some huge rebounds. Brett carried us, but we don’t win without everyone doing all those little things."
Hanson ended up with 32 points, his second consecutive game with more than 30 points. Most of those points came in the second half for Hanson, much like against Lynn on Tuesday, as the senior guard put up 21 in the closing half.
The Mocs needed every bit of them as they once again fell behind in the first half. Against Lynn, Florida Southern trailed by 16 after 20 minutes. On Thursday against Embry-Riddle, Florida Southern (28-2) was down 42-32 and trailed by as many as 12 in the second half before its defense made the adjustments necessary to get the win.
"I think I have to do a better job of telling them in the postseason it’s really hard to be great offensively," Donnelly said. "The refs will let you play more physical. I think about all the career postseason games I’ve played and coached in. I think I need to do a better job of explaining that to the guys so we get off to a better start on Sunday against Nova."
Carroll was the only other Mocs player in double figures with 14 points.
Four different Embry-Riddle players reached double figures with Luka Majstorovic leading the way with a double-double of 23 points and 10 rebounds.