SAINT LEO, Fla. – The Saint Leo men's basketball team gave its fans plenty to cheer about as the Lions defeated Nova Southeastern 62-57 in the Quarterfinal Round of the Sunshine State Conference Tournament on Wednesday night at the Bowman Center.
"I knew it was going to be a grinder, I expected it," Head Coach Lance Randall said of the game. "They are a big, tough team and I thought they defended us really well."
"In the first half they just 'out-physicaled' us. We're a very physical team and we got beat on the offensive glass. But we found ways to get some shots and ways to get some key stops and that's what is going to happen in the conference tournament. That's the exciting part of conference tournament basketball this time of year, anybody can win. We survived and we move on."
In opening up their home for Saint Leo postseason play for the first time in history, the Lions (17-10) led by as much as 18 points before withstanding a furious Shark rally that saw the visitors from Ft. Lauderdale down by three and holding possession.
The unguarded three-point try with 16 seconds left rimmed out, as did NSU's hopes of advancing to Lakeland for the SSC semifinals. The Lions punched that ticket as they pulled down the subsequent rebound and were able convert two free throws to seal their first SSC Tournament win since 2008.
In opening the game, the Lions were a hot-shooting team from the start, draining six triples and shooting 46 percent from the field before the intermission. Junior Marcus Ruh sank a running jumper with 16:07 left in the first to give the Lions' their first lead, and sparked a 22-10 run.
That hot-hand cooled in the second half and Saint Leo was forced to lean on their defense for the final stretch run.
The visitors shot 37 percent (20-of-54) for the game, but it was the 11-for-22 in the second half that the Lions had to deal with compared to just nine made buckets in the opening stanza.
A group of Lions reached double figures as all were huddled between 10-12 points on the evening. Trent Thomas led Saint Leo with 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting while both Ruh and Cale Girten added 11 points each. Regis Schafer was 3-for-5 in 19 minutes of play, adding 10 points.
Robert Huntington added 15 points for Nova Southeastern in their season-ending loss.
With the win over Nova Southeastern, the Lions push their current win-streak to eight games, setting a new mark for most wins in a row, eclipsing the previous mark set in 1987.
With the quarterfinal triumph, Saint Leo will now advance to the Semifinal Round this weekend where a date against No. 2 seed Eckerd College awaits on Saturday, March 3 at noon. The final two rounds of the SSC Tournament will shift to Lakeland, Fla. as they will be contested at the Jenkins Field House on the campus of Florida Southern College.
The winner will then move on to the SSC Championship game the following day to face either top-seeded Florida Tech or No. 5 seed Florida Southern in a title bout that will be featured live on Bright House Sports Network.
For the latest news, information, and updates on Lions Basketball as they push further into the postseason, and for more about all other Saint Leo Athletics, visit SaintLeoLions.com.