By Matt Green
SAINT LEO, Fla. – C.J. Davis poured in a game-high 25 points for Shorter, but 14th-ranked Saint Leo used a big run midway through the second half to turn a four-point deficit into a 75-60 victory over the visiting Hawks in each team's 2012-13 opener on Friday night in Saint Leo, Fla.
The Lions, the preseason favorite to win the Sunshine State Conference, improved to 1-0 on the young season and picked up right where they left off after a historic 2011-12 campaign that saw Saint Leo win a school record 18 games and advance to its first NCAA Tournament.
Shorter (0-1), also fresh off a historic season last year during which it won 34 games and ascended to No. 1 in the NAIA national polls, had the misfortune of debuting in Division II against a Saint Leo team that had scored a 69-67 victory over the University of Miami in one of its two exhibition games leading up to Friday night's opener.
Saint Leo proceeded to lose to Florida State in Tallahassee by nine in its second exhibition several days later, but was quickly put on upset alert by the Hawks on Friday.
Saint Leo built a 35-33 lead at halftime, but Shorter used the sharp long range shooting of Davis to rally and take a lead early in the second half.
Davis, who shot 10-for-17 from the floor and 4 of 8 from 3-point range, scored eight straight points to open the second stanza, courtesy of two 3-pointers and a runner in the lane, to put the Hawks up 41-37 with 17:16 to go.
Shorter's Anthony Banks made 1 of 2 from the line moments later to put Shorter up 42-39, but Saint Leo answered with a 14-2 run over the next 4:54. The Lions' Dominick Robinson capped the spurt with a 3-pointer at the 11 minute mark to hand Saint Leo a 53-44 lead.
Shorter twice pulled within six over the next three minutes, but the Lions had an answer each time. Banks' layup cut Shorter's deficit to 57-51 with 8:10 remaining, but a Robinson traditional 3-point play followed by a deep 3 from Jerrel Harris kick started an 11-3 run that all but put the game out of reach for the Hawks.
The lead ballooned to 17 on Harris' fifth and final trey of the night with 1:36 to play.
For Shorter, it was an impressive showing in its first Division II game against one of the best the level has to offer.
The Hawks matched the Lions stride for stride in the first half, even leading for much of the opening period. Shorter opened up a 27-22 lead on Brandon Wright's triple with 5:00 to go in the first half then went back up by three on a Dedric Ware trey with 2:23 left in the frame.
Saint Leo closed the first half on an 8-3 run, but the Hawks didn't back down, using Davis' offensive surge early in the second half to build their largest lead of the game and put pressure on the No. 14-ranked team in the country.
The Hawks ended up shooting 45 percent from the floor with the help of 10-for-20 accuracy from beyond the arc – Saint Leo had held both Miami and Florida State to under 44 percent in the two exhibitions – and outrebounded the Lions 34-33.
Ware chipped in with 13 points, six rebounds and three steals for Shorter while Banks, a 2011-12 NAIA All-American, finished with nine points and eight rebounds on 3-for-5 shooting after sitting much of the first half with foul trouble.
Harris led Saint Leo with 23 points and Robinson added 15. Shorter held the Lions' Trent Thomas and Marcus Ruh, who entered the game having led Saint Leo in scoring last season at 15 and 14 points, respectively, to 14 points combined. The duo combined to shoot just 4-for-16.
The Hawks return to Rome and the Winthrop-King Centre on Monday, November 12 for their 2012-13 home opener against Knoxville College. Tip-off is set for 7 pm.