MELBOURNE, Fla. – The Saint Leo University men's basketball team could not hold on to a five-point halftime lead as they fell to Florida Tech 91-80 in Sunshine State Conference action on Saturday afternoon.
The Lions, who dropped their third-straight conference game after their thrilling overtime win over Barry on New year's Eve, have not won since the calendar switched to 2009 and now stand at 7-9 overall and 1-3 in the SSC. Florida Tech's second half explosion propelled them to 8-6 and gave them their first win in conference (1-3).
Despite the halftime lead, it didn’t take long for the Panthers to rally and get back on top in the second stanza as a Florida Tech trey at 16:51 gave the lead back to Tech. It was a lead they wouldn’t relinquish, though not for lack of effort on the part of the Lions, who tied the game at 61 on a lay-up by Jordan Prais.
The Lions even got within a point with 7:08 to go in the game and was down by just three at the 3:46 mark, 77-74, but the final minutes belonged to the Panthers. Tech was able to hold the Lions at bay and close the contest on a 14-6 run, going up by as many as 13 on a Derek Hellemann lay-up.
Hellemann was a player that the Lions did not have an answer for from the opening whistle as he dropped in 16 points in the first 20 minutes and would finish the game with 30 points.
Although the outcome was in favor of the hosts, the Lions saw good play close out the first half. With Florida Tech gaining as much as a nine-point advantage with 12 minutes to go in the first half the Lions would slowly begin to claw back.
With 2:49 to go before the break, Quentin Cullop put Saint Leo back out in front 39-37 on a shot behind the arc. The Panthers would again knot the game for a third time in the first on Tech’s next possession, but FIT was not able to pull ahead and the Lions ended the period on a 9-4 run to lead 48-43 heading into the locker room.
Sophomore Matt Salay led the Lions with 25 points on an 8-for-14 night. He also hit five treys to try and keep the Lions even with FIT. Another 20-point night by Prais saw him also collect six rebounds, which puts him over the 500 rebound mark for his career. He now stands at 504 rebounds and 1,067 points in just two and a half years of action.
Senior Kyle Rowland pulled down 11 boards for the game-lead in rebounds.
The Lions will now turn their attention to one of their biggest rivals as they will travel to the University of Tampa to face the Spartans on Wednesday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. and will be carried live on the Saint Leo Lions Audiocast Network.