VALDOSTA, Ga. – The Saint Leo University men’s basketball team rallied from an 11-point halftime deficit but could not close out West Alabama as the Tigers eventually managed to squeeze by the Lions with a 62-59 final in The Loop Pizza Grill Classic played at the campus of Valdosta State University on Saturday afternoon.
It was a game that featured a tale of two halves as West Alabama dominated the Lions in the opening period. After the Lions jumped out to a 9-5 lead on three consecutive treys in the first five minutes, they would go ice-cold for the next five and watch the Tigers go on a 13-2 run where the Lions only two points were bucketed on Josue Vazquez free-throws.
West Alabama (3-5) would increase the lead to double-digits and hold it there for the remaining 10 minutes as they led by as much as 13 points with a minute to play. A Quentin Cullop fastbreak layup with under 30 seconds left cut the Tigers’ lead to 32-21 as the teams headed to the lockers.
It was a role-reversal in the second half as the Lions outscored West Alabama 38-30 through the period. After Cullop opened up the half with a trey, Matt Salay dropped in five quick points to cut the once double-digit lead down to just four.
Consecutive 3-pointers from Salay with just over 14 minutes left gave the Lions their first lead in the game since the 14:30 mark of the first half and set the Lions on fire.
With the momentum on the side of Saint Leo, the next five minutes became the Saladeem Dewberry show as the sophomore nailed two short-range jumpers, sank two free-throws, grabbed a defensive rebound, got a steal and an even posted an uncredited block to push the Lions’ lead to three. Dewberry even managed a foul a West Alabama player to round out his five-minute conquest.
Saint Leo would push their advantage to six as a Vazquez layup with 6:28 left put the Lions up 51-45 but West Alabama would not be done.
A trey from the Tigers’ Herman Mains cut the SLU lead to just three and then a Jamaine Nance layup on a continuation after he was fouled on the drive, took two steps and finger-tip rolled it into the basket and his subsequent free-throw tied the game.
After trading free-throws, the Tigers took the lead for good with a tip-in basket by Brandon Hampton with four minutes left. After that point the Lions would miss their remaining shots from the field and see West Alabama match them in free-throws to pull out the three point win.
Although three Lions were in double figures, the biggest stat of the game was on the defensive side of the ball as West Alabama pulled down a staggering 46 rebounds in the game. The Tigers pulled down more offensive boards (21) than the Lions managed in defensive rebounding (20).
Salay led Saint Leo with 17 points on 6-of-9 shooting, including a 5-for-8 night from behind the arc. Jordan Prais added 12 points and Quentin Cullop contributed 11 in the loss.
The Lions rebounded from a 28 percent shooting performance in the first half to shoot 40 percent (20-for-50) for the game. They matched their accuracy from the field with the 40 percent (8-for-20) night from behind the arc. Free-throws played another big role in the game as the 69 percent (11-for-16) performance from the charity stripe saw the Lions missed five shots. The final margin of the game was three points.
The Lions will take to the Bowman Center floor one final time in the 2008 calendar year as they face Florida College on Thursday evening. They look to snap their four-game winless streak with a 7:30 p.m. tip-off.