LAKELAND, Fla. – In probably the most dramatic game of the season, the Saint Leo men's basketball team held on for a 75-72 win over Florida Southern in a Sunshine State Conference matchup that gave the 647 people at the Jenkins Field House everything they bargained for, and more.
"I thought out guys just battled," a thrilled Coach Lance Randall said of the night's signature win. "They battled back and pressed us but I really liked the way in the second half every time they had something we answered back. I thought we wore them down and got a big stop at the end. It's a tough place to play, they're well coached (and) they've got a lot of talented players. It really was a great game."
Quickly out to a double-digit advantage in the first five minutes of play, Saint Leo (13-10, 7-6 SSC) was holding a 34-22 advantage at the break after shooting 43 percent from the field and hitting 9-of-10 free throws.
The second half would be different story as the host Moccasins (14-9, 7-7 SSC) slowly cut into the Lions' advantage. A 10 point lead at 15:34 was suddenly trimmed to just a single point four minutes later. From that point until the final buzzer the margin would grow no greater than two possessions for either team.
Those watching in the stands saw Saint Leo respond to heavy adversity, and a rowdy pro-Moccasin crowd, multiple times. With Florida Southern cutting the Lions' lead down to just a single point and drawing even twice, first with 5:26 left and again with 4:37 remaining, Saint Leo would answer with a dominating bucket each time. Despite everything going against the Lions, the Mocs never managed to take the lead.
Once time ticked under a minute, the Moccasins resorted to fouling the Lions, hoping missed free throws would give them an opportunity for last-minute drama. The Lions made the first four high-pressure shots, the first set by Cale Girten and the other by Marcus Ruh, to keep the game at two possessions. With just seven seconds left, the Mocs finally got the Lions to miss the front-end of a two-shot chance. With a three-point margin, the Mocs dribbled the length of the court but never managed a good look at a three pointer, launching an off-balance shot that ricocheted off the basket as time expired.
The win marked the first time in the series' history, since their first meeting on January 16, 1967, that Saint Leo has swept the regular season contests after Dominick Robinson hit a three-pointer with time winding down to win the first meeting 60-57 back on January 11.
After having only two points at halftime, Ruh's clutch shooting performance in the second half saw him finish with a team-leading 19 points. Robinson added 15 on 5-of-10 shooting, going 5-for-6 from the free throw line. Tom Neary added 14 points and Trent Thomas battled through foul troubles to reach double-digits with 10 points.
Florida Southern was led by Seth Evans' 25 points in the loss.
With the win, the Lions leap-frog Florida Southern and now sit in fourth place in the SSC with just 10 days left in the regular season.
Riding a four-game win streak, the Lions return home to face Nova Southeastern in conference action on Saturday afternoon. Tip-off is scheduled for 4 p.m. at the Bowman Center. For the latest news, information, and updates on Lions Basketball and all other Saint Leo Athletics, visit SaintLeoLions.com.