ORLANDO, Fla. – The Saint Leo men’s basketball team (0-1) dropped their regular season opener to the third-ranked Southwest Baptist Bearcats (1-0), 86-74, Friday evening from the Milk House Center at the Disney Division II Tip-Off Classic.
Leading the way for the Lions in scoring was senior forward Jordan Prais with 12 points (4-for-16). The Lakeland, Fla. native also contributed six rebounds and a steal. Saladeem Dewberry (4-for-8) and Jeremy Jackson (4-for-9) also had productive evenings, culminating the contest with 10 points apiece. Josue Vazquez and Walter Perkins played above the rim for the majority of the game as the duo brought down eight and seven rebounds, respectively. Vazquez also chipped in eight points, while Perkins scored seven and Dominick Robinson finished the game with a team-high five assists.
The Lions could have asked for a better start, as they found themselves down 8-2, just 1:14 into the first half. The Bearcats continued to use superb shooting from the floor to expand the lead to 22-13 nearly halfway through the first. However, the Lions soon put the brakes on the Bearcats’ run and used suffocating defense to hold Southwest Baptist to just six points over the next eight minutes of the half.
On the other side, the Green & Gold began to chip away at the lead and eventually erased an 11-point first half lead. The 17-6 run by the Lions was highlighted with Dewberry and Perkins combining to score 11 of those points. Dewberry capped off the amazing run with a jumper at the 2:22 mark to give SLU their first lead of the game.
The Bearcats quickly regained the lead on a three-point jumper, edging the Lions heading into the halftime break, 36-35.
Down only one at the intermission, the Lions continued to hit critical shots, keeping them nearly even with the Bobcats for the first five minutes. However, with the score 46-45, Southwest Baptist began to heat up from the field and the free-throw line. The team hit a three to extend their lead to four, 49-45, as well as three consecutive free-throws and a jumper to push the lead to nine.
After Saint Leo tried to cut into the lead, Southwest Baptist answered with another three and five-straight free throws to increase the lead to 12, 70-58, with 7:29 to play. The lead hovered around the 12-point mark until SLU made its final push at the four-minute mark. Matthew Salay, as well as Prais and Dewberry, made an impact in the final run, cutting the lead to as little as six with 3:11 to play. However, the impressive free-throw shooting by the Bearcats quickly inflated the lead again, as Southwest Baptist claimed a 12-point win in their season opener.
Overall, the Lions shot nearly 37 percent from the floor (28-for-76), but could only hit 57.7% of their free-throw attempts (15-for-26). The charity stripe was kind to the Bearcats though as the squad proceeded to hit 83.3 percent (25-for-30) of their shots. Another statistic in favor of Southwest Baptist was three-point shooting. SLU only shot 20 percent (3-for-15) from behind the arc, while the Bearcats buried 31.0 percent (9-for-29).
Both teams also hit the boards hard, as the Lions ended the game with a one rebound advantage, 45-44.
The competitive Lions’ bunch will continue action at the Disney Division II Tip-Off Classic on Saturday, November 7 from the Milk House in Orlando, Fla. Their next opponents are the visitors from Lake Superior State University with tip-off set for 7:00 p.m.