Men’s hoops runs wild in 97-90 win over North Alabama

Men’s hoops runs wild in 97-90 win over North Alabama

SAINT LEO, Fla. – You have to go trudging through some dated parts of the Saint Leo men's basketball record book to find the kinds of numbers put up by the Lions in a 97-90 victory over visiting North Alabama, in the two teams' season opener on Friday night at the Marion Bowman Activities Center.

97 points? Saint Leo hasn't explored that part of the scorebook since a 118-50 win over Trinity (Fla.) in 2011.

33 three-point attempts? Most since the Lions jacked up 36 treys against Elizabeth City State early in the 2013-14 season, which is somewhat more recent than the 78 field goal attempts by Saint Leo that was last accomplished against Trinity in December 2009.

And 35 field goals made against a Sunshine State Conference or Gulf South Conference opponent? The search for that benchmark will have to continue another day, but it hasn't happened since the start of the 2006-07 campaign.

"Wow… Well, people better get used to seeing those kinds of numbers from now on," said a laughing Saint Leo head coach Vince Alexander when presented with some of those facts and figures.

The charged and raucous crowd of 615 roared its approval of the Lions' new up-tempo offense, with the players responding late in the game by beckoning the students to make even more noise.

"I thought it was a really energetic crowd, and I give a lot of credit to our fans," said Alexander. "It was a great college basketball atmosphere, and we want Saint Leo to be known as a tough place to play."

Six different players cracked double figures for Saint Leo (1-0), led by newcomer Ryan Burnett with 18 points on an 8-of-14 effort from the floor, to go with his team high nine rebounds.

Three players – Caleb Stewart, Marcus Dewberry, and Carter Belling – each tallied 16 points on the night, while another newcomer, Tyreece Brice, finished with 15 points. Brice also dished out five assists, while Dewberry charted three steals, eight rebounds, and four assists.

The Lions shot 44.9 percent from the floor, and committed just 11 turnovers while forcing North Alabama (0-1) into 21 giveaways.

If there were any sore points to the stat sheet for Alexander, it was the Green and Gold's 16-of-26 effort (.615) at the free throw line and North Alabama's 47-42 advantage on the boards.

 "We need to do a better job of rebounding, and we need to do a lot better job of making free throws," said Alexander. "I was shocked. We're a lot better free throw shooting team than that. We never miss them in practice."

"I think we have to be tougher defensively," said Alexander. "We struggled a little bit defensively in our first night out, but we're young and that was a big game for these guys tonight."

The big game almost got away from Saint Leo, as the Green and Gold allowed a four-point halftime lead to get away from them, turning into a 60-52 North Alabama with 13:18 to play. An 8-0 run by Saint Leo lasting nearly three minutes, including four points by Burnett, gave the Lions a 61-60 lead with 10:53 remaining and kept North Alabama within reach.

Five ties and 12 lead changes over the next five-and-a-half minute eventually allowed Saint Leo to take an 84-78 lead with 4:05 to play, following a Brice three-pointer and a Burnett jumper.

Saint Leo had to survive a pair of late runs by North Alabama in the final minute, with the Lions holding a slim 93-90 lead. Newcomer Austin Pickett stopped Dimarrio Jackson's layup attempt with a block on North Alabama's first trip down the floor, and the second resulted in a North Alabama turnover which led to a pair of foul shots for Saint Leo's Belling. He converted both with under five seconds remaining, sealing the win for Saint Leo.

Jackson paced North Alabama with 25 points, while John Fletcher charted 18 points with nine rebounds. Bilal Richardson came off the bench to score 15 for UNA, who shot 43.8 percent (28-of-64) from the field.

Saint Leo completes play in the 2015 Sunshine State Conference/Gulf South Conference Challenge Classic on Saturday at 4:00 p.m., when it faces #12 Alabama-Huntsville. North Alabama will play Tampa in the 2:00 p.m. game on Saturday.

"Alabama-Huntsville is tough. They have a lot of returnees, and they're very experienced. We will have to defend the three and do a better job of rebounding tomorrow, and we can give ourselves a chance," said Alexander.

For more on the Saint Leo men's basketball program, visit SaintLeoLions.com. Also, be sure to 'Like' the Lions on Facebook and 'Follow' Saint Leo Athletics on Twitter and Instagram.