SAINT LEO, Fla. – That winless conference start is a distant memory after Wednesday night as a raucous crowd watched their Saint Leo Lions post a stunning 91-79 upset of the 2nd-ranked Florida Southern Moccasins in Sunshine State Conference men’s basketball action from the Bowman Center. The stunner, in front of nearly 600 fans, gave Saint Leo their second win in a row and pushed them to 7-10 overall and 2-3 in the SSC. The Moccasins (13-2, 3-2 SSC) are on the opposite track as they have now dropped two straight after going undefeated to start the season.
The Lions got on the board first as senior Josue Vazquez snatched the first of the Lions’ 15 offensive boards and dropped it back in. Florida Southern immediately took the lead back when Terry Jenkins connected on a 3-pointer, but Jordan Prais set the tone for the game when he drove the ball down the baseline and slammed it home to give SLU back the advantage.
The dunk seemed to kick start the Lions as they would go on an 11-4 run, taking a 15-7 advantage into the first media timeout.
Florida Southern’s answer would come out of the timeout when they would spend the next four minutes erasing the eight point advantage that SLU had. A John Thompson layup as he was fouled and the subsequent free-throw would knot the game at 21 with 10:18 left in the first.
The teams would then trade baskets, and the lead, over the next five minutes. After the Mocs tied the scored at 30 from the free throw line, Saint Leo would make its push, determined to take a lead into halftime, and would manage to outscore the Mocs by four in the final four minutes to take a 44-40 advantage into the locker room.
Rion Rayfield had the Mocs answer seven seconds out of the halftime break as he drained a trey to cut the Lion lead to just a single point. Although it looked as if this might be the point when the Mocs showed why they held the nation’s number two ranked, the Lions had an answer, hitting three of their next five shots inside the paint, which helped SLU open up a seven-point margin on the visitors from Lakeland.
The turning point in the game came inside the 14-minute mark when Saint Leo strung together a 7-0 run over just 90 seconds. While not taking much time off the clock, the seven unanswered points gave SLU a double-digit cushion for the first time in the conference matchup.
From that point on, Florida Southern would not be able to manage more than two-consecutive buckets before the Lions would answer, keeping the game at a comfortable margin throughout.
Even when Florida Southern resorted to putting the Lions at the charity stripe, hoping the Lions’ history of free throw struggles would help FSC, Saint Leo would drain 10 of the 14 free throw attempts in the last three minutes to seal the stunner.
Prais led the Lions on a 7-for-12 night as he dropped in 24 points and was one rebound shy of another double-double. Dominick Robinson, this week’s SLU Athlete of the Week, proved his worth with his first career double-double as he was a point shy of Prais as the freshman scored 23 points and pulled down 10 boards. Vazquez added 15 points and freshman Matt Kendrick added 10 in the win.
The Moccasins senior John Thompson led all scorers with 30 points as he also pulled down 12 rebounds.
As a team, SLU hit true on 44.3 percent (27-of-61) of their shots from the floor, while connecting on 33 percent (6-of-18) of their 3-point attempts.
The visitors were 26-of-68 (38 percent) from the floor and 6-of-19 (31.6 percent) from behind the arc.
The Lions led in nearly every intangible stat, outscoring the Mocs 30-24 in the paint, 17-9 off turnovers, 8-4 on the fast break and 22-9 off the bench.
Saint Leo will look to keep the hot streak alive as they take a break from SSC play when they face Florida College on Saturday afternoon. The Lions and Falcons will tip off at 4:00 p.m. in the Bowman Center.