LAKELAND, Fla. – Playing the entire second-half without one of their biggest contributors, the Saint Leo men’s basketball team cut a 16-point lead down to just two, but could not complete the comeback as they fell to Florida Southern 87-82 in Sunshine State Conference action from a rowdy Jenkins Field House on Wednesday night.
In what became one of the more exciting, and undoubtedly confusing contests of the season, the Lions jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead.
Those opening points were answered by the Moccasins (21-5, 10-2), who went on an 18-3 run and then led 26-14 at the 10-minute media timeout.
Saint Leo would slowly cut into that lead throughout the next six minutes before a single play changed the Lions’ game plan, and left fans wearing Green & Gold scratching their heads.
After a missed trey by Florida Southern, the Lions saw Jordan Prais gain control of the ball before a charging Moccasin player landed on top of the Saint Leo forward. Prais, maintaining control of the ball, caught the FSC player with an errant elbow which resulted in a flagrant foul being issued to Prais, and his ultimate dismissal from the contest.
The Lions, stunned from the Prais ruling, saw Florida Southern respond with a 12-1 run to extend their lead to 18 as the Mocs would eventually head into the halftime with a 49-35 advantage.
The second half started with both teams trading baskets through the first 12 minutes as the Mocs kept a comfortable double-digit lead. After that, Saint Leo Head Coach Mike Madagan let his junior guard, Quentin Cullop take control of the Lions, and he would respond by slowly and methodically cutting into the lead.
Four baskets from Cullop, including a set of three-pointers, sparked the Lions to a 17-6 run that put SLU in a perfect position for a miracle upset.
With the score at 82-80 and 3:30 left in the game, FSC’s Rion Rayfield woke the Moccasin fans up with an NBA-range trey that opened the lead back to five.
A set of free-throws from Cullop with 2:50 left was the last of the Lions’ scoring as hurried shots from the Lions went wide in the last 68 seconds and Florida Southern held on for the win.
This was just the Lions’ second loss in the last eight games as Saint Leo outscored the Mocs 47-38 in the second half, but could not complete the comeback.
Cullop took the reigns as he scored 26 points in the loss. Newcomer Jamal Thompson, plagued by injury to begin the season, was the only other Lion in double-figures as he dropped in 12 points.
As a team, the Lions were outrebounded 42-to-37 and the Moccasins also made 45 percent (32-of-71) of their shots, compared to 43 percent (30-of-70) of SLU shots falling true. Saint Leo nearly doubled-up the hosts from behind the three-point arc as they made 11 treys, with FSC only hitting true six times.
The Lions will remain on the road as they travel to Boca Raton for a Valentine’s Day showdown with Lynn University. Saint Leo will square off with the Fighting Knights on Saturday afternoon at 7:30 p.m. The game will be carried live on the Saint Leo Lions AudioCast Network.