Polk State beat St. Petersburg College 86-68 tonightin the opening round of the Suncoast Conference Tournament in Winter Haven.
The Eagles (14-16, 6-7) play State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota at 7 p.m. Tuesday in Bradenton. The winner advances to the state tournament.
After jumping out to an 11-4 lead tonight, the Eagles had a 39-29 advantage at halftime.
In the second half, however, the Manatees trailed by four points, 46-42 at the 14-minute mark. So Head Coach Brandon Giles decided to make a change on defense.
"I called a time out and we went zone," he said. "They had a little bit of rhythm going offensively, and I thought we had to figure out a way to take them out of their rhythm.
"Also, and luckily for us, two of their best players were in foul trouble, including their best three-point threat.
"So that was a perfect time to call zone, and we got a couple of stops out of it, which I think changed the tempo and the pace of the game."
Alsean Evans led the Eagles with 20 points and made 12 of 14 free throws. He also grabbed eight rebounds and made four assists.
Janiel Jafet "JJ" Romer Rosario finished with 15 points, making six of eight field goals and three of four three-point shots.
Tekorian "TK" Smith had 12 points, three rebounds, and two assists.
Bernat Vanaclocha contributed 12 points and six rebounds.
The Eagles made 42.6 percent of their field-goal attempts while the Titans shot 33.3 percent.
"It feels good to win tonight," said Giles.
"The big message tonight was just doing all the things that can help us survive and win.
"One message we had was '95 percent.' That means what are you doing the 95 percent of the time that you don't have the basketball in your hand. Are you talking on defense? Are you in a defensive stance? Are you setting good screens? Are you sprinting the floor?
"We did a pretty good job of that consistently tonight to allow us to advance and face off against a very well coached, hard playing Manatee team tomorrow."