BRADENTON — The State College of Florida men’s basketball team thought it opened its season last week, but Odi Onyekachukwu broke the backboard early in the second half on a dunk and the game had to be stopped.

This time the 6-8 sophomore broke the back of College of Central Florida as SCF overcome a 16-point deficit to earn an 82-78 victory Wednesday night at Hal Chasey Gymnasium.

Onyekachukwu was simply dominating with 10 blocked shots, 12 rebounds and 17 points despite sitting out the final nine minutes and 52 seconds of the first half after he picked up his third foul.

“When I had to come out, the little guys couldn’t stay on their big men. In the second half, I had to be careful, but I also had to block shots,” Onyekachukwu said. “When the ball is up in the air I just try to aim for it. To come back from 16 points is important to the team because it means we can go places this year.”

The Manatees might be able to go as far as “Odi” takes them. In the second half, he scored 13 of his points and had eight of his blocks.

SCF led 22-20 in the first half when he was sent to the bench with his third foul. Central Florida then outscored the Manatees 31-14 to take a 51-36 led at halftime. The Patriots’ biggest lead was 49-33 with 1:32 remaining before intermission.

The Manatees opened the second half with eight straight points. Odi had three straight baskets and Anthony Prescott drove in for a layup to cut SCF’s deficit to 51-44 less than two minutes into the second half.

SCF kept chipping away at the lead and finally tied it at 72 on a three-point play by freshman guard Denzel Myers with 6:56 remaining in the game.

A 3-pointer by 6-8 Giannis Stavrianidis gave SCF the lead for good at 77-76 with 3:04 left. Onyekachukwu dished a pass to Myers that he converted into a layup sandwiched in between two more blocked shots by the big man to push SCF’s lead to 79-76 with 2:17 left.

Central Florida missed four straight shots, including three from beyond the arc. Stavrianidis converted one of two frees for an 80-76 lead with 32 seconds remaining. The Patriots dropped in two free throws, but Stavrianidis responded with two more foul shots to account for the final score with 12.8 seconds remaining.

“The only two big guys we had, Odi and Giannis, had three fouls in the first half and we were playing five guards at one time,” said Joe Whelton, who was making his debut as SCF’s head coach. “I said ‘Guys just try to keep it around 10 points and it was around 15 because we didn’t play intelligent basketball. But I felt when we had the right people out; there we looked good.”

Prescott led the Manatees with 22 points and his backcourt mate Myers had 15. Stavrianidis scored all of his 15 points in the second half and had four rebounds in the final 12 minutes of the game.

“We had a discussion at halftime about playing intelligent basketball and I thought for the most part we did in the second half and a lot of it was just desire,” Whelton said. “I told our guys to give the ball to our big men in the second half and we were able to establish Odi inside. I told both of them, don’t get in foul trouble and they did, but we are learning. We need him out there. We don’t need him on the bench.”

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