SAINT LEO, Fla. - The Saint Leo men’s basketball team is officially on a hot streak after they took care of visiting Nova Southeastern on Saturday afternoon. The Lions defeated the visiting Sharks 72-66 in Sunshine State Conference action and, in the process, earned their third-straight conference victory.
The win also draws the Lions to .500 in both overall and conference records at 10-10 and 4-4 respectively.
A first half that didn’t see the Lions take the lead until a three-pointer by Kyle Rowland hit true with 10:23 left then saw Saint Leo jump out to as much as an eight-point advantage in the next 10 minutes. Just before the half NSU dropped in a layup to cut the SLU advantage to 38-32 as both teams headed to the lockers.
Saint Leo came out of the halftime break with the hot touch as they went on a 14-7 run through the first six minutes to open up a 13 point lead over the visitors from Ft. Lauderdale.
A patient Nova Southeastern squad then began to slowly cut into the lead by playing good defense and taking careful shots. They spent the remainder of the game trying to get that lucky break they needed to claw all the way back.
It was a break that almost came with a little more than two minutes left.
After cutting the lead down to just three, NSU’s defense deflected a Jordan Prais shot directly in front of the Saint Leo bench. Prais, thinking he would get called for a ball-handling violation if he picked it up, watched the ball bounce twice directly in front of him as all five Shark defenders sprinted towards it. Suddenly realizing that it was partially deflected, Prais then snatched up the ball just before the first defender got there. Swinging toward the basket, Prais then caught Saladeem Dewberry wide-open under the goal and zipped him a laser of a pass, which Dewberry promptly dunked home to put the margin back to five points.
Nova Southeastern would again cut the lead to three, but then had to foul and hope the Lions’ free-throw shooting would be off-target when the pressure was on.
Just as was the case in the Eckerd win on Wednesday night, Rowland stepped to the line with 72 seconds left and calmly sunk two free-throws to again put the margin to five.
After a hurried shot by NSU sailed wide, Quentin Cullop dropped in two more free-throws, and then, with just five second remaining, Josue Vazquez made one of his two chances to seal the Lions’ 10th victory of the season.
The Lions shot an unimpressive 35 percent (20-57) but still managed to make the ones the mattered. Behind Cullop’s 22 points, four 3-pointers as well as a 6-for-6 night from the free-throw line, and another double-double by Prais, with 14 points and 11 boards, the Lions managed to get a big win over the Sunshine State Conference’s top-team.
Rowland, who had a massive, rim-rocking dunk in the first half, dropped in 19 points and had three blocks. He also went 5-for-5 from the charity stripe as the Lions shot 75 percent (24-for-32) as a team.
The intangible stats saw NSU with a 42-16 advantage in point in the paint and a 16-7 lead in points off the bench, but Saint Leo outscored the visitors 10-8 off turnovers and 16-13 in second-chance points.
Saint Leo will now take a break from conference play as they face Flagler College at home on Wednesday night. The game against the Saints is scheduled to tip-off at 7:30 p.m. from the Marion Bowman Activities Center on the Saint Leo campus.