SAINT LEO, Fla. – It was a nervous first half for the Saint Leo men’s basketball team, but after using a 56-35 explosion in the second period, the Lions cruised to a 89-72 victory over the University of Puerto Rico-Cayey in the season opener on Wednesday night at the Marion Bowman Center.
It was a nervous first 20 minutes as the Lions needed to shake away the off-season rust. Saint Leo opened the game with the lead and carried it past the five-minute mark, but the Toros put together a 12-2 run that saw the score tilt in favor of the visitors with nine minutes left in the first half.
SLU would try and close the widening gap, but Cayey pushed the lead to 10 with 4:11 remaining as they answered every Lion basket with a three-point bucket of their own.
Sparked by a trey from sophomore Anthony Gomez, the Lions went on an 11-0 run at the end of the half to take their first lead since 14:11 remained. Not to be outdone before the halftime horn, Cayey senior Emanuel Rivera hit back-to-back 3-pointers to send Puerto Rico into the lockers with a 37-33 lead.
A different Saint Leo team emerged from the locker room as the Lions knotted the game after just four minutes of play, fought a back-and-fourth game with the Toros for three minutes, then, after the games seventh tie with 13:09 left, saw a trey from sophomore Matt Salay tilt the scales in SLU’s favor for good.
After the three from Salay, Saint Leo would go on a 15-6 run over the course of the next four minutes to jump out to a 13 point lead and allow fans in the Green & Gold to relax in their seats. After that, the Lions would get half of their remaining points from the free-throw line and, along with a resounding dunk by sophomore Walter Perkins, closed out their initial win in style.
Puerto Rico-Cayey saw their main threats come from the shooting arms of two players, Ghristian Casanova and Rivera. Casanova averaged a point a minute as he scored 29 points in 29 minutes of action. Rivera saw 37 minutes on the hardwood and dropped in 21 points. Combined, the two guards scored 50 of Cayey’s 72 points.
The Lions saw a balanced effort from their starting lineup as all but one starter finished in double-figures. The lone Lion in single digits was Salay, and he finished with nine points. Junior Jordan Prais was a bucket shy of the game’s point-scoring title as he scored 27 points on an amazing 10-of-11 shooting. He also pulled down seven rebounds and was 7-of-10 from the charity stripe in 31 minutes.
Junior Josue Vazquez scored 17 points on a 5-for-10 night while Kyle Rowland and Gomez added 13 and 10 points respectively.
As a team, the Lions were lights-out shooting the ball as they managed a 58 percent (29-of-50) night. Saint Leo really blistered the nets in the second half as they shot an astounding 74 percent (17-of-23). Their accuracy from the floor outdid their accuracy from the free-throw line as they only shot 69 percent (20-of-29) true in the second half. The Lions would finish 27-for-38 from the free-throw line in the game.
The Lions now turn their attention from the city of Cayey north to the city of Bayamon as the schools are only separated by 36 miles. Saint Leo will square off against the University of Puerto Rico-Bayamon on Friday night. Tip off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at the Marion Bowman Center on the Saint Leo campus.