HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – The memorable run that had turned so many people's heads came to an unwanted end on Saturday night as the Lions dropped a 61-56 decision to Florida Tech in the First-Round of the NCAA Division II Tournament. The loss ends the Lions' first-ever tournament run seemingly before it started as their season concludes at 18-12.
Florida Tech, the no. 4 seed, advances to the Round of 32 where they will face top seed and tournament host University of Alabama in Huntsville, who defeated Benedict College.
It was another game where the Lions were rolling with momentum and seemingly on their way to a win with time ticking down. Leading by as much as eight points in the second half, and a much as four with eight minutes to go the Lions could not put away their Sunshine State Conference rivals from Melbourne, Fla. The Panthers (23-6) hung around, hitting clutch shots and keeping the Lions from going on their defining run that had put previous teams away.
In the final five minutes, the teams combined for three knotted scores, but it was the lead change with 1:25 left that determined the ultimate outcome.
With just 85 seconds left, Florida Tech's Shannon Cummings was fouled and went to the line and calmly stroked two free throws to put the Panthers up by a point, giving them a lead they would not surrender.
Trent Thomas, who became the Lions' go-to guy in the game, had two solid looks at three-point attempts as the clock wound down below a minute to play, but both hit iron and the final attempt ended with FIT holding possession.
The Panthers would make their four free throw shots as the Lions resorted to fouling to try and draw even.
Free throws would play a major role in a game that was the most physical of the day's four contests played in Spragins Hall. Despite the battle fought equally between the teams, the Panthers were the ones who benefitted with the free-shot opportunities. Saint Leo would make eight of their 11 free throws, while Florida Tech was rewarded with charity-stripe opportunities a whopping 25 times, making 21 of them.
The Lions attempted 30 three-point shots in the loss as well, making 10; while the victorious Panthers were more selective, going 4-of-16 from long distance.
Thomas finished the night as Saint Leo's leading scorer with a game-high 28 points, making six 3-point shots. Shaun Adams added 10 points for the Lions.
The loss also overshadows a near-record breaking night for Tom Neary, who finished with 10 blocks, just five shy of the NCAA record set back in 1994.
Florida Tech's Julius Reid finished with the game's only double-double, scoring 17 points and pulling down 11 rebounds.
While eliminated from postseason play with the loss, Saint Leo Men's Basketball will return to Florida on Sunday night as the most accomplished basketball team in the 40-plus year history of the program. The first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament is hopefully a stepping-stone for things to come.