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Panhandle powers face off with 1st place at stake

By Dustin Kent
With just five Panhandle Conference games remaining, Wednesday’s showdown between first-place Gulf Coast and second-place Tallahassee will go a long way toward determining who wins the league and who gets to play in the postseason.

Another victory for the Commodores (19-4 overall, 6-1 in conference), who come in as winners of six straight, would give them a stranglehold on first with three games separating them from third-place Chipola with four to play.

Getting that win will be no easy feat, however, with the Eagles (21-4, 5-2) hungry for payback after dropping the first meeting 75-73 in Panama City on Jan. 18.

“They’re obviously going to be up for us at their place and with us beating them the first time,” interim Gulf Coast coach Scott Jackson said. ”(TCC coach) Zach (Settembre) will have them prepared and ready. They’re probably the most talented team in the league, so we expect them to be on fire coming out. We’ve just got to withstand some runs and settle down and play.”

Withstanding early runs and rallying back has been something of a calling card for the Commodores in conference play, as they erased double digit deficits in wins over both Chipola and Tallahassee.

Those were both at home, however, and Jackson said he has been preaching to the players this week that they might not be able to overcome another slow start on Wednesday.

“Oh absolutely, we were talking about it today,” Jackson said. “The first 15 minutes of the first half (of the first meeting with TCC) it was just bad basketball, and then we made a run in the final five minutes, started getting into it defensively and creating some better shots.

“We have to come out and play better early on the road. Hopefully it will be something similar to (the Jan. 22 game at Pensacola State) where we come out and punch them in the mouth so to speak and battle from there instead of getting ourselves down.”

Given Gulf Coast’s position atop the Panhandle standings and with one win over Tallahassee already in the bag, Wednesday’s contest shapes up as more significant for the Eagles in the race for the Panhandle title and the state tournament.

That certainly doesn’t mean the Commodores are ready to concede a loss, though Jackson said he believes there’s more pressure on the Eagles to come away with a win.

“I think for us we need to be loose, go in there and be competitive and know that we do have a good position, but if we can get that win it makes it very difficult for anybody else in this league to knock us out,” he said. “It is a big game for us because we can distance ourselves, but I think that this game is more of a must for Tallahassee.

“Our mentality, and we talked about it today, is just to go in there and be loose and competitive and have some fun.”

 

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