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Basketball team fights uphill battle for final conference spot

Jakobi Bonner (’20) scored a team high of 22 points against Palm Beach Atlantic, but it was not enough to secure the win. (Kira Bernhard)

The men’s basketball team is faced with a final sprint as just three weeks decide the team’s postseason fate. The Tars are in a three horse race for the much coveted eighth spot in the Sunshine State Conference rankings, the last ticket to the conference tournament. 

The team’s quest did not get any easier after its 91-80 defeat against Palm Beach Atlantic (PBA) University on Saturday, Feb. 9.

Both teams had a timid start, with the first field goal coming after three minutes.

Then, Rollins took a 20-10 point lead over PBA, mainly thanks to a 10-0 run when they were trailing 7-8. However, PBA started edging back and finally managed to draw 36-36 by the end of the first half.

After the lead switched hands multiple times at the beginning of the second half, PBA grabbed a streak of three-pointers which put them comfortably ahead. The Tars’ efforts to catch up were thwarted by a multitude of fouls and lost possessions.

Jakobi Bonner (‘20) was prolific as ever, with a team-high of 22 points. “Offensively, I felt great. When you dedicate the amount of time that I have into your craft, stuff on the court begins to flow,” Bonner said.

Nonetheless, Bonner remained unsatisfied with the end result. “When I have games like that, it is all second nature, but it still doesn’t matter because we lost. Defensively, I feel like I could always do more to help my team; I felt like I wasn’t doing enough,” he said.

Another influential player was Hutton Yennor (‘22), whose 16 points, including four three-pointers, helped keep Rollins’ hopes alive until the very end of the game. “I think we need to improve our transition defense and our defensive rebounding,” Yennor said.

“We’re too inconsistent in focusing on executing the schemes and movements we’ve practiced, and Saturday’s game was another example. We’re all here for one another, and difficult times don’t define tough people. It’s a matter of taking a loss and seeing life in it in order to accumulate success in future occasions,” said Bonner, who maintained a positive attitude nonetheless.

Parker Davis (’21) looks to shoot a layup. (Kira Bernhard)

Other top performers included Connor McKim (‘20) and Eric Castaneda (‘19), who had six rebounds and five assists each. 

Rollins, in eighth place, now trails behind the University of Tampa by two wins. The Tars host the Tampa Spartans on Wednesday, Feb. 13.

After the midweek clash against Tampa, Rollins travels to Miami shores to face Barry University on Saturday, Feb. 16, before facing Eckerd College on senior day a week later. 

The Tars finish up the regular season with a road trip to Melbourne to play against Florida Institute of Technology and then to Lakeland to meet Florida Southern College. 

Despite the busy schedule, the Tars are not showing any signs of cracking under pressure.

“We are not looking too far ahead and worrying about the conference tournament right now. We are going to focus on one game at a time and keep trying to keep getting better each week,” said Yennor. He called for better concentration throughout the team.

Despite the ambitions for continuous progress, the ultimate goal is still there. “Obviously, we all want to make the tournament, and, hopefully, we can make some noise after we get in,” Yennor said.

“More than likely, we need to win all of our games in order to make the tournament, but it is possible. Not that I’m saying it will be easy, because that is far from the truth.  Everyone has to give a little more. But you’re talking to someone who was on an 8-8 team and made it to the Division Two Elite Eight,” said Bonner.

As Bonner vows to hold on to his positivity, the rest of the team will be looking to the upperclassmen and head coach, Tom Klusman, for leadership in a stretch that could make or break the team’s postseason.

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