LAKELAND - John Thompson has 57 points and 26 rebounds in two games against Saint Leo this year, and the bad news for the Lions is they might not have seen the last of him. The 6-5 senior forward muscled his way to 27 points and 14 boards in Wednesday’s encounter, leading #12 Florida Southern to a 101-70 win that assured the Moccasins of no worse than second place in the Sunshine State Conference.
In their first meeting on January 13, Thompson scored a career-high 30 points and pulled down 12 rebounds, but the Mocs lost 91-79, one of only three losses they’ve had this season. Wednesday, Thompson helped them even the score and then some, as they had their largest margin of victory in conference play since beating Saint Leo 101-63 in the final game of 2003.
The first minute set the tone for the entire night. The Mocs (22-3, 11-3) won the opening tip and missed their first shot, but Thompson was there for the rebound and put-back to give them a 2-0 lead. After Saint Leo tied the game on a jumper by Jordan Prais, Thompson collected another offensive rebound and bucket to give Florida Southern another two-point lead.
Saint Leo (11-16, 4-9) used 3-pointers by Prais and Dominick Robinson to take an 8-7 lead not long after, but again Thompson put the Mocs back in front with a turn-around jumper in the lane for his third basket in the first three minutes. The Lions would get two more 3-pointers from Robinson and Brandon Powell to go ahead 16-11, but the rest of the night belonged to Thompson and the Moccasins.
Starting with a short jumper by Damon Ellison at the 14:33 mark, Florida Southern scored 10 consecutive points and out-scored the Lions 17-2 over the next five-and-a-half minutes. Five different players made baskets for the Mocs during that run, which included pair of 3-point field goals by Terry Jenkins.
After trailing by as many as 12, Saint Leo was able to get the deficit back down to five, and trailed 42-36 with less than three minutes to play in the first half. However, the Mocs got eight more points from Brandon Jenkins before halftime, and a three-point play from Thompson to quickly push their lead back to 13.
Powell made a 3-point shot at the halftime buzzer to get the Lions within 53-43, but they got no closer the rest of the game.
Thompson had 17 points in the first half alone before finishing with 27 in the game. Not only did he have his fourth double-double in four games against the Lions, he also had three blocked shots and three steals. His career numbers against Saint Leo include a 22.3 scoring average and 13.5 rebounds per game.
With Thompson working the boards, Florida Southern out-rebounded Saint Leo 52-32, with a season-high 23 offensive rebounds and 29 second-chance points. The Lions came into the game leading the SSC in rebounding average.
In the paint, the Mocs not only got big points from Thompson, they also got 10 from A.J. Hawkins. Meanwhile, freshman guard Damon Ellison matched his career-high with 17 points, reaching that total for the third time in the last five games. Ellison and Thompson shared the team scoring lead in the second half with 10 points apiece.
Brandon Jenkins scored 15 points and had 10 assists, his third such double-double of the season. He also went four-for-six from 3-point range, helping the Mocs go for 10-for-22 as a team. His brother Terry made three of those triples and scored nine points. Rion Rayfield was held to single digits for only the third time this season, but did hand out nine assists.
Saint Leo was led by Prais, who scored 16 points with four rebounds and three assists after missing the previous three games due to injury. He was one of four Lions in double figures, getting help from Robinson with 12 points, and Powell and Josue Vazquez with 10 apiece.
The win kept Florida Southern a half game behind Rollins in the SSC standings, while Saint Leo remained in seventh place, a half game ahead of Tampa. If Florida Southern and Saint Leo hold their current positions, they would meet again in the first round of the SSC Tournament on March 3. The same would be true if the Mocs are able to overtake Rollins, and the Lions fall behind Tampa.
Florida Southern will be off this weekend before closing the regular season with two games next week. The Mocs travel to the University of Tampa on Wednesday, February 24, and host Nova Southeastern on Saturday, February 27.