SAINT LEO, Fla. – Kyle Rowland has made a lasting impression during his career at Saint Leo, but the 6’7” forward made no bigger play this season than a resounding dunk and a foul with just 96 seconds left that helped propel the Lions’ men’s basketball team to a 64-62 win over Palm Beach Atlantic on Senior Day at the Marion Bowman Activities Center.
Rowland’s dunk and then a Sailfish turnover with just four seconds left capped off a thrilling game at closed the regular season as the Lions prepare for the first round of the 2009 Blue Cross and Blue Shield Sunshine State Conference Basketball Championships next Wednesday.
The Lions started the game with a lead they would not relinquish through the entire first 20 minutes. Although the visitors from West Palm Beach would knot the score three times, including with just 1:25 left in the first, SLU would respond each time. The final answer came from the fluid three-point follow through of Matt Salay as he calmly stroked a trey with 57 seconds left. Palm Beach Atlantic would get a lone free throw before the half expired as SLU took a 32-30 lead into the lockers.
The second period was where Saint Leo would be tested by the Sailfish as PBA opened the half to tie the game.
Fans in attendance at the Bowman Center for the final time this season got their money’s worth as neither team managed more than a five-point advantage in the entire half. In fact, the second stanza saw five ties and four lead changes as the game began to set up for the exciting final minute and six seconds.
After Rowland missed his bonus shot, both teams traded layups and saw the game score at 63-59 and the clock ticking down to just eight seconds. With just those eight ticks remaining, DeAndre Williams launched an off-balance trey from the top of the arc that banked off the glass and through the bucket to put the Sailfish to within a lone point.
After fouling Rowland, the Sailfish gambled that he would not be able to make his free-throws and they were half right. Rowland missed the front-half of the free-shots to give the Lions just a two-point advantage and just five seconds to see if PBA could ruin the Saint Leo senior day.
In the weirdest, and luckiest play for Lion fans, the inbounds pass was mishandled by PBA’s David Powell. As he was trying to regain control of the ball he pushed it directly into the Salay’s arms, where he would dribble across the court and run the last three seconds off the clock for the win.
Rowland would finish his final game at home with five points, but one of the biggest contributors in the outcome of the game. Jordan Prais again led SLU with 18 points on 6-of-12 shooting. Salay dropped in 15 points as he connected on five treys and Quentin Cullop added 10 points in the win.
Although both teams made 24 shots, the difference in the game came from the three-point line as Saint Leo nailed three more treys than the visitors.
Now the Lions will sit and wait for the rest of the Sunshine State Conference to sort itself out during the remaining Saturday games. Saint Leo will learn where they will travel to on Sunday. The Lions will then pack their bags and travel to the first-round host site of the tournament on Wednesday.