LAKELAND, Fla. - West Alabama men's basketball closed a 16 point deficit in the first half to four points in the final minute, but still fell to Saint Leo 75-67 in the first round of the 2014 NCAA Division II South Region Tournament on Saturday.
The loss eliminates West Alabama from its first tournament appearance in 32 years with a 17-11 overall record. Saint Leo, now 24-8, will continue on to face Delta State in the second round on Sunday.
"We closed the gap and made it interesting at the end, but they out-toughed us in the first half," said UWA head coach Mark Downey.
"It's hard to play catch-up against a team like Saint Leo. If you want to win at this level, you have to guard somebody and get some paint touches, but we weren't able to do that. I was proud of how our guys fought until the end. I'm also proud of how our guys came off the bench played. We just put ourselves in too big of a hole early. "
Saint Leo jumped out to a 36-25 lead at halftime and shot 72 percent (13-for-18) to lead the Tigers by three points in the second half.
Four Tigers came off the bench accounting for 14 points in the second half and leading the Lions 19-12 in bench points. UWA caused 11 Lion turnovers in the second half and led Saint Leo 20-15 in points on turnovers.
SLU led the Tigers in rebounds 29-24, including 21-13 in defensive rebounds.
Four Lions tallied double-digit scoring marks led by Jerrel Harris with 23 points. Spenser Mitchell posted 17 followed by Ron Foxx with 11 and Chim Kadima with 10. Foxx led with 10 total rebounds.
Senior's Desmond Raymond and Sandy Underwood both led UWA in scoring in their final game as Tigers. Raymond scored 15 points and Underwood totaled 14.
Fellow senior Kervens Calixte came off of the bench shooting 4-for-4 from the field to end with nine points.
The loss ends an exciting year for West Alabama. Under first year head coach, the Tigers made their post-season run after winning 14 Gulf South Conference games, the most in a single season in school history.
Early in the season, UWA split the Battle 4 Atlantis: Mainland Championship with Towson University while becoming one of the only Division II schools to defeat two Division I opponents this season.
UWA ends its season with the most wins since the 1997-98 team.
"When you take over a program, you always want to have a lot of 'firsts,'" said Downey.
"We want this year to be a staple for West Alabama. We want to be here every year. Hopefully that is something we've started now. We have some very talented seniors to replace, but those guys will always be a part of our family. We will be back here, and maybe one day this tournament will be held in Livingston."