Preview (M): Central Florida vs St. Petersburg

Preview (M): Central Florida vs St. Petersburg

OCALA- When the College of Central Florida men's basketball team opens the FCSAA/NJCAA Region VIII Tournament on Thursday afternoon at 1p.m. against St. Petersburg College, it knows it will have to be at its best.

Despite winning 10 straight games against the Titans and owning a 22-1 record against the Suncoast Conference over the past four seasons, the Patriots have to be ready for anything from the always-tough Titans. 

In SPC, CF faces off a team it defeated twice in the regular season, which included a 75-71 win in Ocala after the Titans shot up to No. 3 in the state coaches poll.

A year ago, SPC went all the way to the state championship before losing to Chipola College.

Titans coach Earnest Crumbley, who like Ryan was inducted into the FCSAA Men's Basketball Hall of Fame last year, has the reputation for getting the most out of his players, especially down the stretch.

"(Crumbley) is tough in the playoffs," Ryan said. "We know that they are going to be ready. Each year, (Crumbley) is able to get (SPC) to be one of those teams that gets better as time goes on.

"They play so hard every night. They are tough and have a good group of kids who give everything they have."

"(Ryan) does a great job," Crumbley said. "It's going to be a war. We know that we have to play well. (CF) is always tough and (Ryan) has had them playing well for a long time."

The two coaches go way back and the mutual respect is evident between the two hall of famers.

"I've known him a long time and I have a lot of respect for him," Crumbley said. "I spoke at some of his basketball camps (when Ryan was a high school coach at St. Petersburg Catholic) and recruited one of his kids (from there). 

​"He's a friend and I have a great deal of respect for what he has been able to do (at CF)."​

In the first meeting between the schools this season, CF held SPC to 30.6 percent shooting, which included a 3-of-20 mark from 3-point range.

The second time around, the Patriots outrebounded the Titans by 15 and got a great effort fromBarrington Alston on the inside.

"He's our most improved player," Ryan said. "Once his confidence grew, he got better and better."

Alston will be needed against two-time Suncoast Player of the Year Maljum McRea.

McRea was held to five points and two rebounds in the second meeting with CF, while Alston grabbed eight rebounds and blocked three shots.

For CF, it had five different players contribute double-figure scoring outings in the two games against the Titans.

The Patriots made 16-of-34 from 3-point range in the two meetings and shot 47 percent overall.

By comparison, the Titans, who averaged 80.3 points per game during the regular season, averaged 66 against CF and made 7-of-37 from beyond the arc.

McRea did manage 21 points and 13 rebounds in the first meeting with the Patriots, while Prince Foster, a returner from last year's state runner-up squad, averaged 10.5 points.