In a Feb. 6 home game, Saint Leo (Fla.) trailed Lynn by six points at halftime. The Lions rallied in the second half and forced overtime. It was clear that head coach Vince Alexander needed to put in extra work to get a victory that he would remember for quite a while.
Alexander, who is in his first season as head coach at Saint Leo, was going for his 300th career victory.
He arrived at Saint Leo on June 3, 2015, after a highly successful 10-year stint at South Carolina at Aiken in which he compiled a 196-113 record, two Elite Eight appearances and one Final Four.
The 300th victory wasn’t secured until the final seconds of the game. With 35 seconds left and Saint Leo leading 89-87, sophomore Caleb Stewart knocked down two free throws. And with one second left and leading by one, freshman Carter Belling made both his free throws for the 93-90 win.
“It seems my team believes I need the extra heart work out,” Alexander said. “We play a lot of close games. The good news is we win the majority of them so I am not complaining.”
Now in his 17th season as a head coach, Alexander has worked with many good players and coaches at USC-Aiken and six years at Mansfield University in Pennsylvania to help him compile an overall record of 300-196.
“To be quite honest, 300 victories mean that I had some remarkable players come and play for me,” Alexander said. “I had some outstanding assistant coaches who worked very hard and bought into what my principles are, and we teach the kids the same principles.
“I have a wonderful wife that allows me to spend a lot of time away from home. I definitely have to consider that. I am a blessed man when it comes to those things. I have had great players, great assistants and a wonderful, supportive wife.”
At 15-9 with still four more regular season games and the Sunshine State Conference still to play, Saint Leo has already topped last year’s win total of 14.
Saint Leo has a young team as evidence by the two players who shot important free throws late in the win over Lynn. The Lions only have one senior.
“The thing I like about this team is they are very coachable and teachable,” Alexander said. “In that regard, it allows us to accomplish somethings that we probably shouldn’t be accomplishing. They buy into what we stand for here. We have young core group of guys who have an opportunity to be really good.”
Alexander knew he was coming into a little bit of a rebuilding process, but a program that had recent success in the 2013-14 season, going 24-9 and making the NCAA Division II tournament
“The thing that attracted me here is the athletic director Francis Reidy, who wants to compete at a high level both academically and athletically,” Alexander said. “He wants to provide the resources to do that and that was very important to me. The core values of this institution fit in line with the core values of my life.”
Alexander is a deeply religious man. Part of that foundation was built when he was a student-athlete at Oklahoma Baptist.
“Oklahoma Baptist shaped me personally,” Alexander said. “I grew spiritually. My relationship with Christ became more valuable. It grounded me in a spiritual way. It laid the foundation for me to walk in that way.”
Alexander then learned a lot about molding a team as a high school coach in Oklahoma City. He worked with some teenagers who had some tough backgrounds. It was up to him to try to get them to play as a team.
“I think that experience helped me tremendously in this regard,” he said. “A lot of kids were in gangs and you are trying to transform them from gangs to basketball and playing together, becoming a family and playing as one unit. It prepared me to teach and mentor kids and get them formed as a unit rather than individuals. I got a great start in Oklahoma City doing that.”
Alexander is using all the lessons he’s learned in his coaching journey to help the student-athletes on the Saint Leo basketball team reach their full potential.
Despite the youth on the team and some tough losses along the way this season, Alexander believes this group can achieve at a high level in postseason.
Saint Leo is 8-5 and in fourth place in the Sunshine State Conference. The Lions have a little over two weeks remaining in the regular season before the quarterfinals of the conference tournament start on March 2.
“We got to get them to believe they can take it to another level,” Alexander said. “They are young. They probably don’t think that they can. It is our job to get them to do that over the next couple of weeks.
“We want them to have what we call playoff maturity. We should get better and our intensity should go higher. Only God knows how far we will go and what we will do, but I enjoy coaching them. I look forward to the test we will have in postseason.”
Games to Watch resultsNo. 7 Lewis University women’s basketball team passed both its road tests. On Thursday, the Flyers beat No. 20 Quincy 68-62. In that game, senior forward Mariyah Brawner-Henley scored 28 points.
More significantly, she pulled down 15 rebounds and became the Great Lakes Valley Conference all-time rebounding leader. She entered the game needing three rebounds to top Saint Joseph’s Sloan Haughey’s mark of 1,187. Brawner-Henley finished the game with 1,200 rebounds.
She added to that total on Saturday when the Flyers beat Truman State 59-51. Brawner-Henley had another impressive game, scoring 26 points and pulling down 12 rebounds.
Lewis is 24-1 overall and 15-0 in the GLVC. The Flyers final three regular season games are at home.
No. 6 UC San Diego men’s basketball team suffered a 77-71 loss at home to No. 9 Chico State on Feb. 12. In the victory, Chico State sophomore forward Isaiah Ellis scored a career-high 26 points.
The win lifted Chico State a half-game ahead of UC San Diego in the California Collegiate Athletic Association. Both teams won on Feb. 13. Chico State is 20-3 overall and 14-2 in the CCAA. UC San Diego is 19-4 and 14-3.
Southern Connecticut lost 85-79 at The College of Saint Rose on Feb. 13 in the Division II Basketball Showcase on the American Sports Network. The loss dropped Southern Connecticut to 19-6 overall and 14-3 in the NE-10.
Wrestler to Watch
Southwest Minnesota State senior Cole Wilson is one of the hottest heavyweights in NCAA Division II. He ran his winning streak to 14 with 4-3 decision over Malcolm Allen, who wrestles for No. 15 Minnesota State on Friday and then had a 3-0 win on Saturday over Nader Abdullatif of Minnesota State-Moorhead.
Earlier last week, Wilson was selected Super Region III and Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference wrestler of the week. Wilson’s big win was a 4-2 sudden-death victory over No. 1 ranked Austin Goergen of St. Cloud State on Feb. 4.