Lions Earn a Crucial 58-49 Conference Win over Eckerd

SAINT LEO, Fla. – The Saint Leo men's basketball team won  its sixth-straight game, and 15th overall as the Lions defeated Eckerd College  58-49 in Sunshine State Conference action at the Bowman Center on Wednesday night.  The victory improves Saint Leo to 15-10 overall and 9-6 in the SSC while Eckerd drops to 10-5 in conference and 18-7 overall.

"I thought it was a great battle between two very tough-minded teams.  I thought they played really well," Head Coach Lance Randall said.  "I thought in the second half we did a great job on the glass, and a key part of beating Eckerd is keeping them off the line.  They do a great job of getting the ball on the post and attracting a crowd and getting to the free throw line, and I thought our post players did a super job of keeping the ball out of the post, and our help side guys were great as well. It really was a great team win."

It was a night where the Lions would lean on their defense, ranked in the top-5 nationally, to shut down a potent Triton attack that was averaging 76 points per game before they stepped on the Bowman Center hardwood.  Eckerd shot just 30 percent in the opening half while Saint Leo again lit up the scoreboard, with 27 points on 52 percent shooting.

In what has become a familiar sight to fans of the Green and Gold, the Lions came out of the gates hot, opening up a 10-2 advantage by the first media timeout.  The Tritons would respond by closing the gap to just two points on a Josh Snodgrass jumper with 13 minutes left in the half, but Saint Leo would again spread the gap to eight 10 minutes later.  The Lions would carry the advantage into the halftime horn, taking a 27-20 lead into the lockers.

Saint Leo finally opened up the lead to double-digits in the second half when reigning SSC Player of the Week Marcus Ruh drained a trey with 12:08 remaining to widen the margin to 38-28.

Down by two possessions or more throughout the second half, the visitors from St. Petersburg, Fla. pushed for one more rally with time winding down.  Wayne Sears Jr. connected on a three-pointer with 2:07 left to cut the deficit to just a single point, but it would be the Lions' prowess at the free-throw line that handed them the much-needed conference win.

With 41 seconds left to play, and clinging to a one-point edge, the Lions assembled an 8-0 run, all at the free-throw line, to close out the game.

Randall added about his free-throw shooters, "A big part of making free throws is having the right guys handle the ball.  I thought Trent (Thomas) and Marcus (Ruh) did a nice job of getting the ball quickly.  They're excellent free-throw shooters, among the tops in the league, and those guys just knocked down the shots, as did Tom (Neary)."

Meanwhile, the final four Eckerd possessions came up empty as EC turned the ball over and missed three shots, including two 3-pointers.

Four Lions reached double figures with Trent Thomas posting a game-high 18 points as he was 9-of-10 from the free throw line.  Shaun Adams added 15 points and Tom Neary had 11, including 7-of-8 from the charity stripe, in addition to Ruh's 10 point night.

Darrien Mack scored 14 points to lead the Tritons in the losing effort, while Alex Bodney added 13 points.

Having closed out the regular-season portion of their home schedule, the Lions travel to Barry in the season's final scheduled game.  Saint Leo is slated to tip-off with the Buccaneers on Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. in Miami Shores, Fla.  For the latest news, information, and updates on Lions Basketball and all other Saint Leo Athletics, visit SaintLeoLions.com.