MIAMI SHORES, Fla. – Sometimes it just feels like things are finally going your way, even when the deck is stacked against you.
That's the way it felt on Saturday night as the Lions completed a 10-win Sunshine State Conference regular season with a 61-56 win over host Barry University. This victory, the Lions' seventh straight, earned the "feel-good" title because a rowdy Senior Day, pro-Buccaneer crowd and the fact the Lions did not make a basket from the field in the final 6:13 of the game could not take the win away from a determined group of Lions.
"I thought Barry came out in the first half and we did a poor job of keeping them out of the paint," a relieved Head Coach Lance Randall said. "They were a little quicker to the ball (and) beat us on offensive rebounds. They had that energy, that Senior Day energy."
He continued, "The second half we righted the ship. I thought we did a very good job of defending for the first 17 minutes and we stretched the lead (to 52-35). Then (Barry) made their shots, which is what they've been doing (and) it's how they beat Eckerd. But in the end I thought our rebounding was excellent in that second half and our post (players) really jammed up the lane. It was a great team effort as it has been all year. Our guys have really come together and deserved a finish like that and a happy bus ride home."
Saint Leo (16-10, 10-6 SSC) was introduced to an offensive slugfest out of the gates as Barry, riding an emotional high from Senior Day festivities before the game, jumped out to an 11-4 advantage, forcing the Lions' head coach to call a timeout. His team responded by drawing even with the Buccaneers. With made baskets coming at a premium, the scoring really opened up as the half wore down, with each team trading buckets for the final three minutes.
Barry (12-16, 6-10 SSC) would have the final say in the first half as an errant BU trey was corralled by senior Evan White whose layup passed through the iron as time expired, sending Barry into halftime with a 29-27 advantage.
As Coach Randall had said, the Lions came out undaunted in the second half, using a momentum explosion to turn the two-point deficit into a 52-35 lead with just nine minutes left.
What wasn't known at that point was the Lions were building a lead to withhold a furious Buccaneer rally combined with a Saint Leo scoring drought that would work to erode the Lions' lead.
A Tom Neary layup with 6:13 left proved to be the final points the Lions would score until just 23 seconds remained on the clock, and was the final basket of the night from the field for the Green and Gold.
After Neary's basket, the Lions' defense would have to come up big, and with the game on the line that's exactly what happened.
Four consecutive three-pointers without answers from Saint Leo had the Bucs looking at just a two-point deficit with 1:37 left and the crowd rocking. Barry would get no closer as the Lions had hands in the face of every Buccaneers shooter and pulled down every rebound from that point until the final horn.
Left with no choice but to foul after missing a shot to take the lead, Barry watched as the Lions made their free throws to open the margin greater than a single possession, ending any hope of a Buccaneer comeback.
Saint Leo returns to campus and prepares to do something it has never done in men's basketball history at the school – host an opening round SSC Tournament game. The Lions finished the regular season as the third-best team in the Sunshine State Conference and, as the no. 3 seed, welcomes no. 6 seed Nova Southeastern into the Bowman Center. The Lions and Sharks will square off for the third time this season on Wednesday evening in a memorable leap-day contest. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.
For the latest news, information, and updates on Lions Basketball as they make their postseason run, and for more about all other Saint Leo Athletics, visit SaintLeoLions.com.