Saint Leo falls to #1 Florida Southern in defensive battle

Saint Leo falls to #1 Florida Southern in defensive battle

LAKELAND, Fla. – Saint Leo men's basketball held top-ranked Florida Southern to well below its season scoring average, but still came up short in a grinding, physical, 70-56 loss to the Mocs on Wednesday night at the Jenkins Field House.

Defensively, Saint Leo held a Florida Southern team that was ranked fourth in the nation in scoring offense to its lowest point total of the season. The Mocs' previous low was the 71 points scored against the Lions when the teams met in Saint Leo, Fla., back on January 7.

Senior Devin Crisosto and junior Ed Dukulis led Saint Leo with 10 points each, as the Lions fell to 12-12 overall, 4-8 in the Sunshine State Conference. Senior Cale Girten hauled down a team-best six rebounds.

SSC-leading scorer Kevin Capers tallied 15 points for Florida Southern (22-1, 10-1 Sunshine State Conference), over six points below his 21.9-point average coming into the game. Tyler Kelly led the Mocs with 17 points, while Dominique Williams finished with 10.

The two teams combined for 47 fouls in Wednesday's affair, which was punctuated by bodies flying around the court and frequently crashing into the floor.

The loudest crash of the night was among the first, when Lions senior Ron Foxx and Capers both went up to catch an errant pass in front the Florida Southern bench just over two minutes into the game. Both players came down hard to the floor, with Capers taking the worse of it and checking out of the game for several minutes.

Saint Leo held its own in the first part of the low-scoring struggle, and the Lions were tied 9-9 at the 11:15 mark of the first half.

The Mocs broke the game wide open with a 13-0 run, jump started by a Tyler Ross jumper, and aided by a 4-for-4 effort at the free throw line. Kelly's three-pointer at the 6:46 mark capped the run, which left Saint Leo trailing, 22-9.

Florida Southern went on to hold a 37-25 lead at the break, with six three-pointers – including another Kelly trey right at the buzzer – and an 11-of-16 effort at the charity stripe.

In the second half, Saint Leo was unable to cut the margin with Florida Southern to within single digits despite clamping down on the Mocs defensively. Florida Southern was held to just 32.3 percent shooting from the field in the second half, after hitting shots at a 43.5 percent clip in the first 20 minutes of play.

The Lions stepped up their own shooting in the second, connecting on 42.1 percent of their shots – but managing just 19 attempts in the half.

More uncharacteristic for Saint Leo, the Lions – who entered the game leading all of Division II in free throw shooting percentage – shot 66.7 percent from the free-throw line. The Green and Gold missed three front ends of one-and-ones, in addition to five other free throws that failed to connect.

"You don't have to play a perfect game to beat a number one ranked team, but you can't leave points on the board with layups and free throws, and we did that," said Saint Leo head coach Lance Randall.

Saint Leo did manage to outrebound Florida Southern, 37 to 36, and limit the Mocs' ability to take advantage of 15 Lions turnovers.

The Lions return to action on Saturday, Feb. 14, when they face Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. Tip-off is slated for 4:00 p.m.

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