LAKELAND, Fla. – From the opening tip, both teams set the stage for what was to be a contest that came down to the wire.
On Thursday. two cross county rivals squared off inside the Furnace. Southeastern, in the midst of recent slide, battled Warner University in a game that surely did not disappoint. When the final horn sounded the Fire fell at the hands of the Royals 104-102.
As the early minutes of the game ticked off of the clock, the Royals established a dominant presence in the paint with the help of Khalil Ozuna. Ozuna, who finished the game with a double-double (27 pts., 13 rebounds), was a force to be reckoned with down-low.
The Royals opened the game with a 7-0 which placed the Fire’s backs against the wall. Throughout the quarter, the Royals fed the hot hand of Melton Saunders to slowly pull away from the Fire.
Toward the tail end of the first half, the Fire made a few in-game adjustments that brought success in the closing minutes of the opening half. Jeremy Oppenheimer, the reigning Sun Conference Freshman of the Year, shot a perfect 3-3 from beyond the arc and closed out the half with 20 points. Heading to the locker room, the Fire trailed the Royals 51-47.
Contrary to the first half, the Fire saw steady offensive contributions from reliable assets. CJ Reese and Josiah Barsh did all they could to keep pace with the offensive juggernaut this was the Warner Royals. As a collective group, the Royals shot an impressive 63.6% from the floor. Reese added 19 second half points while J. Barsh tallied 16. J. Barsh recorded a season-high 23 points while Reese tallied 28 of his own.
With less than two minutes to play, the Fire rattled off a 10-2 run to bring the game within one. However, crucial foul shooting by Nick Macon, and Saunders iced the game and issued the Fire their seventh loss of the season.
In recent games, the Fire have seen countless contributions from assets off of their bench. Tonight the Fire bench collected 36 points, all of which came from Oppenheimer and J. Barsh.
The Fire’s next game will take place on Saturday when they battle Webber International. Tip-off scheduled for 4 p.m.