Valdosta, GA - Saint Leo used a 24-9 run in the second half to grab control of the game as the Lions defeated Valdosta State 85-79 in men’s basketball action on the first day of play of the Gulf South Conference vs. Sunshine State Conference Challenge Friday evening at The Complex.
Valdosta State led for most of the first half as it jumped out to an early 14-7 lead. After Saint Leo (1-0) got a Jeremy Jackson dunk to open the scoring, Tristan Steele connected on a three to put VSU in front before Will Alston added a jumper. A Lion three evened the game at 5-5, but Valdosta State (0-1) scored nine of the next 11 points to build a 14-7 lead. Four different Blazers scored during the run, which was highlighted by an alley oop dunk by Billy McShepard and ended by a three by Christian Hunter.
SLU fought back over the ensuing four minutes and eventually grabbed the lead on a Quentin Cullop three with 9:07 remaining in the half. Two minutes later, Hunter connected on a trifecta to put VSU back in front before adding a second, to go along with one from Steele, in a 15-3 run that gave the Blazers their largest lead at 33-23 with 3:34 remaining in the frame.
Saint Leo responded with back-to-back threes by Jamal Thompson and Saladeem Dewberry to close to within four before a jumper by Cullop with four seconds to go in the half established a 36-34 VSU halftime lead.
The Lions continued their run early in the second half as they scored the frame’s first three points to grab a 37-36 edge, only to have VSU respond with the next 14 of the next 19 points to regain the lead.
Saint Leo took over from their as it scored eight straight points to tie the game at 50-50 with 12:31 remaining before building a seven point lead three minutes later. Thompson spurred the run by the Lions as he scored 11 of the 24 points. He hit three three-pointers during the spurt, the last of which gave SLU a 66-59 lead with 9:05 remaining.
Valdosta State closed to within two points on three occasions over the remainder of the game, only to have SLU respond with short bursts to keep control of the contest.
Tristan Steele led the Blazers with 22 points while also dishing out six assists in the game. Hunter added 17 points and six more assists while McShepard tallied his second career double-double with 15 points and 18 rebounds. Josh Sparks added 13 points while blocking two shots. VSU connected on 27-of-55 field goals for a 49.1 shooting percentage and owned a 41-33 advantage in rebounds.
Thompson scored 26 points off the bench to lead Saint Leo while Cullop added 14 and Jackson 12. Jackson and Dewberry, who registered 11 points, also had a team-high six rebounds. The Lions shot 50.0 percent in the game as they hit 29-of-58 field goals, including 11-of-18 threes. Saint Leo also registered 12 steals on 20 VSU turnovers.
The GSC vs. SSC Challenge continues Saturday with four more games. Alabama-Huntsville and Eckerd open the day at Noon, followed by North Alabama and Florida Southern at 2:00 p.m., Delta State and Saint Leo at 4:00 p.m. and Valdosta State and Rollins at 8:00 p.m.