Downs, Defense Push Bucs Past Titans in Suncoast Opener

Za'Nautica Downs (Photo by Linwood Ferguson)
Za'Nautica Downs (Photo by Linwood Ferguson)
FORT MYERS, Fla.- The defending Suncoast Conference Champion Florida SouthWestern State Buccaneers got their 2020 defense campaign off to a good start Saturday afternoon in Suncoast Credit Union Arena as they kicked off conference play against the upstart St. Petersburg Titans with a 64-56 victory behind a big 26 point effort from sophomore Za'Nautica Downs
The early story was a preview of what was to come the rest of the afternoon as after a quick bucket, the 13th ranked Bucs went three minutes until their next one, while it took St. Petersburg over two minutes to get on the board for the first time.  The score was tied 9-9 midway through the first when five straight points from Za'Nautica Downs gave the Bucs a 14-9 advantage late in the period.  The Titans trimmed that lead by one before the end of the quarter, but FSW held a 16-12 lead at the end of 10 minutes of action.  
The Bucs scored the first four of the second quarter to open their lead up to eight and it looked like they might begin to run away with things as they did during their undefeated conference campaign a year ago.  But St. Pete had different ideas. The Titans slowly erased the FSW lead, eventually tying the game up at 24 with 4:05 to go in the half.  Four straight free throws from Downs pushed the Bucs back in front, but a late turnover and subsequent St. Pete bucket made it just a one point game at the break, 30-29. 
As obvious by the score, the half was a struggle for both offenses. St. Petersburg shot 32% from the field while FSW managed just 30% in the half and 25% on 4-16 shooting in the second quarter.  Downs led all scorers with 13 in the first half while no other Bucs had more than 6.  
A quick start to the second half put the Bucs up five, but eight straight from the Titans from there flipped the script and gave St. Pete a 37-34 lead with 6:26 to go in the quarter.  Down by two moments later, Downs scored five straight for FSW to put them back on top at the midway point of the period. The roller coaster of runs continued though and next it was St. Pete's turn as they seven straight as the Bucs went cold to retake a 46-44 lead with under two minutes to go in the third.  FSW had two shots to even things up as the quarter came to a close, but turned it over on both possessions as the Titans took a 46-45 lead to the fourth after 30 minutes of action.  
After a pair of empty possessions for both sides to start the fourth, a driving shot at the rim fell for Downs to put the Bucs back in front 47-46.  They never trailed again. It was a two point game with just over five minutes remaining when Cabria Lewis stepped up big for the Bucs.  The freshman point guard stepped up and drilled a huge three to give FSW some breathing room and then backed it up on the next possession with another triple to equal the Bucs biggest lead of the game at 58-50.  St. Pete got back to within four with 1:02 left, but Lewis and Downs knocked down four free throws in the final minute while FSW's defense stymied the Titan attack as the Bucs finished off a 64-56 win.  
Neither side shot it well, FSW shooting a season low 31% with St. Pete shooting just just a tick better.  Downs broke out with a 26 point effort while going 15-17 from the free throw line, just one make off of the school's single game record.  Joining her in double figures was Lewis who scored 12 and had 5 assists while Simone Lett came up big on the defensive end for FSW, blocking 5 shots and pulling down 10 rebounds on the night.  
The Bucs start 2020 with a win, improving to 13-5 overall on the season and start Suncoast Conference play 1-0.  St. Petersburg, who has already topped their 2018-2019 win total, falls to 15-4 and 0-1 in league play.  
#13 FSW will take the court again on Wednesday when they travel to Hillsborough to take on the Hawks in a 5:30 tip in Tampa.