MELBOURNE, Fla. -The Saint Leo Lions went toe-to-toe with the host Florida Tech on Wednesday night, but dropped a heartbreaker, 71-69, in the waning seconds of the Sunshine State Conference contest.
Saint Leo was led by a career-best performance from junior Nikira Hooks, who paced the Lions with personal best 24 points, including sinking a season-high five three's. She did so with an efficient 7-11 from the floor, and 5-7 from long range, adding five free throws as well. She added four rebounds, two steals, a block, and an assist to her impressive performance.
Senior Chelsy Springs added 21 points and a game-high eight rebounds, two assists, and a block. Springs and Hooks battled against the much taller Florida Tech team to earn their points, as the Panthers saw four six-foot-plus players see the court.
The Panther's height was a problem for the Lions as the hosts grabbed 20 offensive rebounds, matching the Lions' defensive rebounds, while the Lions only grabbed seven offensive boards of their own. FIT was able to record 24 second-chance points, and score 30 points in the paint. However, the shot just 6.3-percent from long range.
The Basics Final Score: Saint Leo 69 | Florida Tech 71 Location: Clemente Center | Melbourne, Fla. Records: Saint Leo 5-11, 0-9 | Florida Tech 9-7, 4-5
1Q | Saint Leo was on early, jumping out to a 10-4 lead and were perfect both from the floor and the charity stripe. The Lions maintained the lead until the two-minute mark when the home squad tied it up at 13. Five different Lions scored in the opening period, led by Nikira Hooks off the bench with 5. | 17-17
2Q | The Lions opened up the second strong, opening on a 5-2 run, which was followed by a solid defensive effort that caused the Panthers to turn over the ball on a five-second call and forced them into a timeout. At the 5:39 mark, the home team took the lead, and inflated their lead to eight points. A Ragen Dotson three would bring the lead down for a few possessions, but FIT would score again before the end of the half. | FIT 34-27
3Q | Three-point baskets by Hooks and Dotson helped the Lions stay in the game, cutting the lead to just four points at the 5:08 mark. Hooks was a key contributor all quarter, hitting three triples in the period, and an and-1 play, and on defense, she drew a key charge to give the Lions the possession, down just four points. However, foul trouble sent the Panthers to the line seven times in the period. A great final possession by the Lions saw Hooks take the shot, but on the miss, Springs was there to clean up the basket. Hooks scored 12 points in the third period alone. | FIT 53-49
4Q | Springs opened with four points to start the fourth and brought the game within two points, 55-53, at the 7:40 mark. Springs would add an 'and-1' conversion to cut the score to 57-56 with 6:05 to play. Constant defensive effort kept the Lions in the game, and a driving lay-up by Gina Brierley gave Saint Leo a lead at 62-61 at the 3:56 mark. The two squads continued to battle hard over the final minutes of the game. A timely take-a-way by Kamryn Kimmel resulted in a Kimmel fast-break lay-up to bring the game to a 68-67 score in favor of FIT with just 42.3 seconds left on the clock. Being forced to foul to stop the clock, the Panthers brought the game to 70-67, and on the ensuing possession, Springs sunk a spin move layup to take it to 70-69 with 10.9 on the clock. Kimmel again came up with a huge defensive play, forcing the FIT player into backcourt violation, giving the Lions the ball. Saint Leo was unable to convert, and FIT went back to the free throw line. FIT converted one of two attempts, giving the Lions hope. But with only 2.1 seconds on the clock, Saint Leo was unable to get a shot off clean. | FIT 71-69.
Beyond the Box
Hooks' seventh double-digit performance on the season. She also connected on a season-high five threes.
Springs' 11th-straight double-digit performance, and 14th overall performance in double figures. With her 21-point performance, Springs now has 705 points in her two-year Saint Leo career.
Saint Leo connected on 52.9-percent of their three-point attempts on Wednesday, hitting 9-17.
"In 90-percent of our games this year we have given a fantastic effort and deserved to win, but we haven't figured it out in the end. What I mean is - these ladies listen, they work, they try, and they truly care, and we will see the fruits of that labor in time, but what's most important is that we got better tonight."
"Chelsy Springs was incredible, and she clearly isn't 100-percent, but she's one of the most unstoppable players in the league on the offensive end. Nikira Hooks came off the bench and gave us a tremendous spark in the second half, but I need her to eliminate all turnovers and play smarter."
"Tonight we didn't lose the game; tonight we fought and fought and fought. Coming off of a disappointing loss to Rollins, I thought we fought exceptionally hard. I'm proud to coach this basketball team. I believe the second half of the season will show a bigger, stronger, and even better Saint Leo, and hopefully, we come up on top of some games."
The Lions head to Daytona to take on Embry-Riddle on Saturday, Jan. 21 for a 2 p.m. non-conference game.
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