CLEVELAND, MS - Florida Southern College men's basketball nearly erased a late 10-point deficit but was unable to complete the comeback in an 85-78 loss to West Alabama on Friday in the 2017-18 season opener at the annual GSC/SSC Classic at Delta State University. The Moccasins (0-1) trimmed a double-digit deficit to just two points in the final minute, but the Tigers (1-0) hung on for the win.
Jonathan Lawton led Florida Southern with 20 points in his Moccasin debut, while Jack Rauch scored 15 and grabbed 14 rebounds. Tyler Smith scored 10 points off the bench in his first collegiate game. The Mocs finish off the weekend at 8 p.m. on Saturday against Delta State.
HOW IT HAPPENED
• Florida Southern got out to an early 9-2 lead and did not trail until West Alabama hit a jumper with 14:58 to go in the first half to take a 10-9 lead. The teams would trade jabs until late in the opening period when the Tigers hit a three-pointer to take a 27-23 lead, but Josh "Rico" Releford knocked one down from long range on the next possession to make it 27-26 with 4:31 on the clock.
• The Tigers and Moccasins went back and forth for the remainder of the first half, but UWA hit a jumper at the buzzer to take a 36-32 lead into halftime. Florida Southern shot just 32.5 percent (13-of-40) through the first 20 minutes of action but outrebounded the Tigers 20-18 to help keep the score close.
• West Alabama seized momentum to start the second half by scoring the first four points to push its lead to 40-32. A pair of layups from Rauch and Lawton would pull the Mocs back within four (40-36) with 17:36 to go, but the Tigers were able to maintain their lead and used a 6-0 run later in the half to turn a 46-42 edge into a 52-42 advantage.
• Despite falling behind by double digits, Florida Southern battled back to get within six (53-47) on Releford's layup at the 13:54 mark of the second half. West Alabama would go on another scoring run later in the half to jump in front by 11 (62-51) with just over 10 minutes to go.
• Trailing 68-57 with less than eight minutes to play, the Moccasins would begin to chip away at UWA's lead and Lawton got FSC within two (70-68) on his layup with 4:17 remaining. The Tigers were able to get back in front by four points, but the Mocs again cut the deficit to two (78-76) when Smith hit a layup with just under two to play. It would not be enough, however, as Florida Southern was unable to get any closer and West Alabama built on its lead in the final minute to earn the victory.
• The Moccasins shot 40.0 percent (30-of-75) in the game but went just 5-of-30 from long range. West Alabama connected on 46.4 percent (26-of-56) of its shots and made 8-of-19 three-point attempts. The Tiger went to the free-throw line 37 times compared to just 20 for the Mocs and converted 25-of-37 free-throw attempts. FSC finished with a 46-42 edge in rebounds and forced UWA into 20 turnovers.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
• Florida Southern fell to 2-3 all-time against West Alabama, including 0-2 when facing the Tigers on a neutral court. The Moccasins also dropped to 63-27 all-time in regular-season openers. FSC has opened the regular season at the GSC/SSC Classic with games against Delta State and West Alabama for each of the past three years, going a combined 2-5.
• Lawton led the Mocs with 20 points on 6-of-15 shooting, while Rauch went 6-of-9 from the floor to record the fifth double-double of his career. Smith went 5-of-8 from the floor in his first college game, while Releford was 3-of-9 for eight points in his FSC debut. Ben Marello played 21 minutes off the bench and scored six points, and Tyler Ross fell just shy of a double-double with nine points and nine rebounds.
• Florida Southern caps off the weekend at 8 p.m. on Saturday against Delta State. The Moccasins open Sunshine State Conference play on Nov. 15 at Saint Leo and host Palm Beach Atlantic in the 2017-18 home opener at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 18.