By MEL SUITER
Photo courtesy of Saint Leo University
SAN ANTONIO, Fla. --- Saint Leo University welcomed the No.2 team in the nation according to the National Association of Basketball Coaches inside the Marion Bowman Activities Center on Dec. 6
Nova Southeastern University is a physical team, they have size, they have speed and they average 122 points a game.
Saint Leo University fell to the Sharks by the score of 92-77,for their second conference loss.
During the team’s warm up, Saint Leo University senior guard Kyran McClure was in a zone and caught the attention of Nova Southeastern University basketball coach Jim Crutchfield.
“Do I have to start guarding you now?” Chrutchfield asked from the sideline as he watched a three point shot find its way to the target. Turning to his assistant coaches, Crutchfield exclaimed, “Wow! He is good!”
McClure would have been a difference in the game before disaster crushed the Lions worse than the loss to the Sharks.The biggest loss for Saint Leo University came at 13:59 mark of the first half. McClure came down from making a three point shot on top of a defender's foot and turned his left ankle.
The shot went in the basket, in fact McClure was perfect before he went down on the floor with the injury. He did not miss a shot, he was 4 of 4 from the field, three of those shots were from behind the arch and he made two trips to the free throw line, he didn’t miss those shots either.
Saint Leo University held the lead, Chrutchfield and his team was worried and the Sharks showed some emotions on the sideline.
Nova Southeastern University took a page out of the University of Arkansas playbook, from former Razorbacks basketball coach Nolan Richardson and deployed the Sharks version of 40 Minutes of Hell by running a full court press defense.
It is designed to put pressure where ever the ball is on the court, trying to create trap situation that lead to turnovers but if the opposition can beat that defense, it can lead to uncontested baskets.
To beat that defense you have to have good ball movement and a good point guard that can handle the ball and make good decisions.
Saint Leo University basketball coach Lance Randall saw the magic that was happening in front of him, with McClure able to meet the requirements to beat the full court press. Then like magic, it disappeared. As he watched McClure on the court in pain.
“If that kid could have played, he would have played so it is probably fairly bad. He is tough as they come,” Randall said. “In a game where you need your point guard, so we had to play Isaiah Hill and Rusty Moore had to play all those long minutes, handle the ball break the press and guard their best ball players. They did a great job but there was some stretches were they wore us out.”
Moore finished the night with 20 points to lead the Lions with points, Hill helped by scoring 13 points and he was able to dish out seven assists.
Nova Southeastern University wanted to take control of the paint area under the basket. They wanted to take advantage of their size and be physical under the basket. Nova Southeastern out scored the Lions 52-28 in the paint, were able to get 17 offensive rebounds for second chances that they converted into 21 points.
There was a lot of pushing, a lot trying to establish position and there was a lot of chippy play by the Sharks as they tried to intimidate the Lions under the basket.
“I really appreciated the guts that our guys showed,” Randall said. “They had some flurries and that is what they do. We made some defense mistakes and some of our better offense players struggled on the little things and it ended up big things. We had a lineup out their that was competing and fighting and trying to battle and I appreciate that we did!”
The defense for the Lions allowed the Sharks to shoot 53.5 percent from the floor and had five players in double figures, led by power forward RJ Sunahara with 25 points, five blocks before he fouled out of the game.
“I liked our intensity, I thought we had a good level of intensity to play on the road,” Crutchfield said, before boarding the bus. “Saint Leo has got an outstanding ball club they came out of the blocks fast. I thought our guys played pretty smart, still made a lot of mistakes. I thought that we played hard and beat a good team on the road.”
Randall said that the Lions and his coaching staff will not know the severity of the left ankle injury to McClure until the early part of the week.
Whether it is good news or bad news the season continues for Saint Leo University and they will have to be ready to play against another Sunshine State Conference game. This week’s game will be against the neighbor down the interstate, the University of Tampa will be stopping by the Marion Bowman Activity Center. The game against the Spartans is scheduled for Saturday, December 14, starting at 7:30 p.m.
The lights in Randall’s office will be burning a little longer, this week as he makes out his Christmas list for that old jolly fellow with the white beard. Placed on the top of the Christmas list is a healthy team.