March 15, 2009

Courtesy of Florida Southern Athletics

LAKELAND - Rob Eldridge picked up the Moccasins when they needed it most, and John Thompson carried them down the stretch. Both players scored 23 points Saturday, and Thompson added 15 rebounds as top-seeded Florida Southern downed 8th-seeded LeMoyne-Owen 94-77 in the first round of the Division II South Region Tournament. It was the Mocs' first win in the NCAA Tournament since advancing to the Elite Eight in 2000.

The 11th-ranked Moccasins (28-6) trailed nearly the entire first half and well into the second before Eldridge took over the game. Down 60-54 with just under 10 minutes remaining, the senior guard hit 3-point field goals on three straight possessions to give the Mocs a 63-62 lead. Those 3-pointers all came in the span of 60 seconds after Eldridge had scored just eight points prior to that. He wasn't finished either.

After Maurice Mickens hit a 3-pointer for LeMoyne-Owen to put the Magicians (17-14) up 65-63, Thompson tied the game once again with a pair of free throws. Eldridge then came up with a loose ball on LeMoyne-Owen's next possession and drove the length of the court for a basket that gave Florida Southern the lead for good. He was fouled on the shot and also converted the free throw to make it 68-65. Following a free throw by the Magicians, Eldridge hit his fourth 3-pointer of the second half, putting the Moccasins ahead 71-66 at the 7:20 mark.

LeMoyne-Owen kept the gap between five and eight points for the next three minutes before collapsing down the stretch. Leading 75-70, the Moccasins went on a 15-1 run that featured seven points and five rebounds by Thompson. All of those points came at the free throw line where the junior forward was 17-for-20 in the game. The Mocs were 41-for-52 in free throw attempts as a team.

Overall, the Moccasins out-scored the Magicians 55-32 in the second half after trailing by as many as nine in the first half. The Magicians even increased their lead to ten early in the second, but were out-scored 50-23 in the final 16:35.

In addition to the 23 points from Eldridge and Thompson, the Mocs also got 12 points and six rebounds from Preston Fredrick, and 11 points apiece from Terry Jenkins and Rion Rayfield. All of Fredrick's points came in the first half, helping keep Florida Southern in the game.

LeMoyne-Owen, which won the automatic bid from the Southern Intercollegiate Conference in upset fashion, had dreams of doing the same in the South Regional. Their chances looked good early on, as Rasul Buluu had 17 points in the first half to stake the Magicians to a 45-39 lead at the break. Twice in the first 10 minutes, it was a Buluu jumper that snapped a tie game and denied Florida Southern momentum. Another tie, at 21 apiece, was broken by Deandre Grant, who started a 9-0 run that was capped with a three-point play by Buluu.

Buluu led the Magicians with 22 points in the game, while Maurice Mickens scored 17 points and handed out eight assists. Greg Hill added 11 points.