ATLANTA - Jonathan Lawton's clutch three-pointer with 57 seconds left in regulation erased a 21-point second-half deficit, and Tyler Smith's layup with 17 seconds to go in overtime completed an improbable comeback as Florida Southern College men's basketball rallied past No. 10 Morehouse, 98-97, to advance to the semifinals of the NCAA South Regional on Saturday at Forbes Arena.
The Moccasins (21-10) found themselves down 62-41 with just over 14 minutes to go, but found a way to claw back into contention and knock the top-seeded Fighting Maroon Tigers (25-3) out of the NCAA Tournament. Lawton led the way with 29 points, 18 of which came in the second half and overtime, and five other Mocs scored in double figures to lift Florida Southern to one of the biggest upsets in Division II basketball this year. Florida Southern will face No. 4 seed Eckerd in the semifinal round tomorrow at 7:30 p.m.
HOW IT HAPPENED
• Florida Southern started off the game by scoring the first five points, but quickly surrendered the lead when the Tigers ripped off nine-straight points to jump out to a four-point lead (9-5) with 15:51 to go in the first half. The Mocs answered with a 12-2 run of their own to jump back in front by six (17-11) with just under 12 minutes on the clock, but Morehouse scored 13 of the next 17 points to jump in front, 24-21, at the 7:15 mark of the opening period.
• The Maroon Tigers stayed in front for the remainder of the first half and outscored FSC 6-0 in the final minute and a half of action to take a 46-35 lead into the locker room. The Mocs were hurt by a poor shooting performance in the first half, connecting on just 36.7 percent (11-of-30) from the floor while Morehouse hit 47.4 percent from the field, including a 6-of-8 showing from long range.
• Morehouse kept its foot on the gas early in the second half and led by as many as 21 points (62-41) with 14:33 to play. Although the Moccasins made several runs to cut the deficit significantly, the Tigers were able to stay in front by double digits until late in regulation. Trey Diggs connected on a pair of free throws to pull FSC within 10 (76-66) at the 4:59 mark, and Ben Marello came up with a huge steal on the ensuing possession to give the Mocs the ball again. After drawing a foul, Diggs was able to slice the Tigers' lead back to single digits (76-68) for the first time since the 1:19 mark of the first half.
• A dunk by Morehouse's Tony Evans with 3:09 left put the Tiger back up by 10 (83-73) and seemed to be the nail in the coffin, but four quick points from Florida Southern made it an 83-77 ballgame with 2:14 to play. Trailing by seven (86-79) with 1:42 to go, the Moccasins would score seven-straight points to send things to overtime. Several turnovers and missed shots by the Tigers have the Mocs a chance to tie things up, and Lawton did just that by nailing a three-pointer with 57 seconds to make it 86-86. Both teams had a chance to hit the game-winning bucket in the final 30 seconds of the half, but neither team found the bucket.
• In overtime, both teams traded jabs over the first few possessions until Morehouse was able to open a three-point lead (92-89) with just over two minutes to go. Jack Rauch hit a pair of crucial free throws for the Mocs to make it a one-point game (92-91) with 1:47 to play, but the Tigers answered back with a tip-in to jump back in front by three with 1:18 left. On the ensuing Florida Southern possession, Lawton calmly dribbled up the floor and drilled a shot from beyond the arc to tie the game at 94-94.
• The teams again traded baskets on the next two possessions to keep things knotted up at 96-96. Florida Southern head coach Mike Donnelly decided to have his squad foul the Tigers early in Morehouse's next possession, and Tyrius Walker missed the front end of a pair of free throws to give the Moccasins the ball back with 25 seconds and down by just a single point. Smith would bring the ball up the floor and drive into the lane, hitting a layup while closely guarded to put the Mocs in front (98-97) with just 17 seconds to play.
• The Tigers looked as if they might pull out the win as they had the ball last with a chance to win, but Walker was called for an offensive foul and turned the ball over as Florida Southern ran out the clock to snag the win.
• Lawton led all players with 29 points on 7-of-14 shooting. He also connected on 11-of-12 free-throw attempts and snagged four rebounds. Slinky Jones finished with 15 points and eight rebounds, while Brett Hanson tallied 14 points, eight rebounds, and five assists. Rauch poured in 11 points, while Diggs (11) and Rico Releford (10) combined for 21 of Florida Southern's 27 bench points.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
• Florida Southern improved to 2-2 all-time against Morehouse, including 1-1 when facing the Maroon Tigers in Atlanta. Saturday's meeting was the first time the two schools have ever met in the NCAA Tournament. The Mocs moved to 45-30 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, including a 31-22 mark in regional contests. Florida Southern is now 13-17 all-time in first-round games and history bodes well for the Moccasins, who are 11-1 in regional semifinals and 10-1 in regional title games.
• Saturday's game was Florida Southern's sixth of the year against a nationally-ranked opponent. The Mocs are 5-1 against ranked foes this season. It was the seventh time this year that the Moccasins have played an overtime game, improving to 4-3 this year when going to OT.
• Lawton has scored 685 points this season, good for eighth in the program record books for points in a single season. His 22.1 points per game is the highest per-game average by any Moccasin since Derek Flowers averaged 22.7 ppg during the 1990-91 campaign. Hanson inched closer to 1,000 career points by increasing his career total to 938. He has scored in double figures in 28 games this season, and has tallied 562 points this season.
• The Moccasins are one of two eight seeds to win their opening-round game in the NCAA Tournament this year. Minnesota State knocked off Northwest Missouri State, 60-50, in the first round of the Central Region Tournament.
• Florida Southern will face No. 4 seed Eckerd in the South Region semifinals at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday. The winner will face either No. 3 Claflin or No. 7 Barry in the regional title game at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.