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TAMPA -- With less than a week left in the regular season and the University of Tampa men's basketball team staring at the unfamiliar but real prospect of a low seeding in the conference tournament, the Spartans could look at their string of four losses in their past fives games as a negative.
But UT chose to make the most of those losses Wednesday night, using the slide as motivation to beat Saint Leo 74-55 in a Sunshine State Conference game.
An unlikely recipient of that motivation was junior forward Rob Sargeant. A key player off the bench, Sargeant lifted UT with a career-best performance with 21 points and 11 rebounds.
"Rob's an athletic guy, he's a scorer," said Lisa Beamer, UT's acting coach in place of Richard Schmidt, who served a one-game suspension after being ejected from Tampa's loss at Lynn on Saturday. "We were prepared tonight. Coach Schmidt had this whole team prepared, and Rob just played well. We know he's capable of that."
Saint Leo (6-19, 2-11) found that out in the first half.
The Lions were down 18-17 when Sargeant made a 3-pointer. His shot opened the floodgates, and the Spartan's lead stretched to 14.
"We're starting to realize it's tournament time," said Sargeant, whose previous best performance was 15 points. "We're coming together as a team, plus we know we have to win games this time of year."
It was more of the same for Sargeant in the second half, as he pulled down seven of his 11 rebounds and scored 13.
UT junior forward Achille Ngounou scored 11, and guard Marty Harrington added nine points.
The Lions were led by senior forward Colin Shaw, who led all scorers with 27.
The Spartans (15-10, 6-7) and Barry (16-9, 6-7) are in the running for the fifth spot in the league standings with a game remaining. UT takes on rival Eckerd on Saturday at the Bob Martinez Sports Center.