By ROD GIPSON
© St. Petersburg Times, published February 4, 2001
TAMPA -- Tampa isn't fighting for first place in the Sunshine State Conference. Mired in the middle of the pack, the Spartans are clawing for a good conference tournament seeding and trying to take advantage of every chance they get to beat rival Florida Southern.
The Spartans accomplished both Saturday night at the Bob Martinez Sports Center as junior forward Gecarri Freeman had 23 points and 10 rebounds, helping Tampa hold off Florida Southern 75-69. UT's fourth win in its past five games kept it just below the conference leaders at 6-3 and 17-4 overall. The No. 25 Moccasins dropped to 16-5 and 7-2 in league play.
The loss was Florida Southern's first in six games and first since Jan. 13 to UT at Lakeland.
"This was a typical Tampa-Florida Southern game," UT coach Richard Schmidt said. "We made mistakes early that hurt us, we played a lot of guys that normally don't play a lot. But I'm proud of the way we executed late in the game."
Freeman helped with that execution as UT, which led throughout the second half but couldn't put the Moccasins away, took a 66-61 lead on his layup with five minutes remaining. When a short jumper from James Mereus followed to extend the lead to seven, UT finally seemed to put Florida Southern away.
But two Cedric Powell free throws and a Jay Gibbons three-pointer got the Moccasins within 70-67 with less than a minute to play. And when a Tampa turnover handed the ball back to the Moccasins, UT was looking at potentially losing its lead.
But there was Freeman again.
Jumping in front of a Nick Railsback pass, Freeman intercepted to secure a UT possession. His ensuing free throws cemented the win.
"The hardest part of this game was at the end," said Freeman, who left briefly in the first half with a hip injury. "We kept starting and stopping and we couldn't put them away. We got going for this game early in the week in practice and we came out with intensity. It's an extremely good feeling to beat them."
Mereus had 14 points and Elijah Piazza 10 for Tampa. Powell led Florida Southern with 19 points and center Christophe Humbert added 14.
SAINT LEO 95, BARRY 91 (OT): Gary Downing had 27 points and 11 rebounds to lead the visiting Lions. Downing's three-point play tied it at 81 and forced overtime.
ROLLINS 54, ECKERD 50: Mike Veith had 16 points and 10 rebounds, and the host Tars held the Tritons to 30.5 percent shooting from the floor.
FAU 62, UCF 55: John Smart and Earnest Crumbley had 11 points each to lead the host Owls.
JU 68, MERCER 55: Shawn Platts had 19 points, and the visiting Dolphins led most of the game.
FIU 66, MID. TENN. ST. 61: Karel Rosario and Carlos Arroyo had 21 points each and Rosario added 12 rebounds for the host Golden Panthers.
- Information from Times wires was used in this report.