ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – It was definitely a nail-biter on Wednesday night as the Saint Leo men’s basketball team squeezed out a 77-72 road victory over Eckerd College in Sunshine State Conference action from Eckerd’s McArthur Gymnasium.
The Lions, fresh off of a big win over SSC foe Lynn University on Saturday, are no stranger to success on the hardwood in South St. Pete as the Green & Gold upset the Tritons last March in the quarterfinal round of the conference tournament.
The core group of players who pulled off that upset, Quentin Cullop, Kyle Rowland and Jordan Prais, returned 10 months later to turn the same feat, marking the first time since the February of 2005 the Lions have won a regular season game at Eckerd and the first time in over 10 years that the Lions have posted back-to-back wins in St. Petersburg.
The Lions (9-10, 3-4 SSC) opened up scoring on a Rowland layup and quickly extended the lead to as much as seven points in just four minutes, but two quick fouls by Rowland saw him head to the bench and the Tritons begin to edge back into the game. In fact, EC would go on a 7-0 run to tie the game and then turn the tables on the visiting Lions as the hosts jumped out to a seven point advantage of their own with six minutes left in the first.
Proving that this was going to be a game of hot-and-cold spurts, the Lions answered with a 17-4 run to close out the half, heading into the lockers up 39-33.
Eckerd (8-9, 1-6 SSC) would come out of the halftime break and spend no time pulling ahead at 41-40 after only allowing the Lions a single free throw in the first three minutes of the second stanza.
The game would play out as a back-and-forth battle for the next seven minutes before SLU managed to jump out to an 11-point advantage on a 19-7 run in the middle of the half, but Eckerd would answer.
Whether it was strong Eckerd defense, or the Lions went completely cold, Saint Leo would not see a basket of any type over a five minute span where the Tritons would drop the lead to just four, but the Lions’ Jamal Thompson would give Saint Leo the spark the needed at just the right time.
Thompson, undaunted by the two Tritons defending him, planted just inside the three-point line and drained a long-range jumper that awakened the Saint Leo offense.
After Eckerd answered with a basket with just over two minutes to play, Saladeem Dewberry had the biggest momentum-changing play of the night. After receiving a pass on the baseline from Josue Vazquez, Dewberry took one dribble and powered it to the basket. Hit on the arms on his way up, Dewberry still managed to get a solid shot off that bounced off the backboard and rim before going through the cylinder to get the bucket and the foul.
At that point Saint Leo would have a 73-67 advantage and only 93 second left in the game, but Dewberry would miss his free throw.
The good number of Lions’ fans in attendance began to get really nervous as EC’s Lewis Lampley was fouled by Cullop in the paint and still managed to make his shot with 47 seconds left. Lampley converted his free throw to cut the Saint Leo lead to just two points.
The biggest play of the night did not even get credited in the official stats, but after the Lions ran down the shot clock, and with only 21 seconds left on the game clock, Dewberry was forced to take another long-range jumper that deflected off of the back of the iron. As the miss was falling toward the players fighting for the rebound, one hand came up above the crowd and knocked the ball clear to half court where Josue Vazquez awaited the official rebound. The hand belonged to Kyle Rowland, whose play forced Eckerd to foul the Lions.
Cullop made just one of his two shots and Eckerd would get one last look a tying three-pointer, but Joey Cantens’ baseline, game-tying trey with 16 seconds left would sail long where Rowland would be to pull down the rebound to seal the win.
The Lions saw Cullop drop in 19 points, including four three-pointers and Rowland added 18 points on a 5-for-6 night. Jordan Prais, who fouled out late in the second half, still managed 12 points as the Lions shot 51 percent (28-of-55) as a team.
Saint Leo now tries to push its two-game conference win streak up to three as they return home to face Nova Southeastern on Saturday. Tip-off is set for 4:00 p.m. at the Bowman Center.