The effort was good enough to win a home Gulf South Conference game. The execution, most any other day, was good enough to win.
The coaching, well, let’s let Bobby Champagne tell you about that in the aftermath of a 70-67 loss to Alabama-Huntsville on Saturday at Flowers Hall.
“This game is on me. It’s my fault,” UNA’s head basketball coach said.
Champagne wasn’t just deflecting criticism from his team after its third consecutive loss, either. He was referring to a technical foul whistled against him in the waning seconds against the Chargers. The popular coach admitted he lost control with 19.7 seconds to play after back-to-back calls went against his team.
Despite the fouls — a charging call against DeAndre Hersey in the paint and a bumping foul against Marquel Darrington on the ensuing inbounds play, UNA only trailed 68-65. When UAH called timeout, Champagne charged out to half court, still arguing his case.
That’s when he got the technical foul, and Jamie Smith’s two free throws put the Lions in a five-point hole. Still, with a score and a turnover UNA had a chance to send the game to overtime. But Nathan Spehr’s 3-point try ticked off the front of the rim, allowing UAH to seal the Gulf South Conference’s regular-season title.
Champagne admitted he lost control at the worst possible time and was contrite after.
“I can’t apologize enough for my behavior,’” Champagne said. “Our coach wasn’t very smart today. I don’t need to get that technical. That’s all my fault. Our kids played too hard for me to make it about me and my personal views on whether that was a charge or not. It doesn’t matter. I need to be smart. I take full responsibility for today’s loss. Our kids played too hard for me to screw it up.”
Although the outcome didn’t suit the Lions, the atmosphere at Flowers Hall on Saturday was a throwback to the days when Otis Boddie was king of the court and hated rivals such as Jacksonville State and Troy came to town.
The stands were packed, and a sizable number of UAH fans did their best to not get drowned out by UNA’s vocal student section for a ‘White Out’ game. It was a tribute to what easily is the GSC’s most heated basketball rivalry. There’s mutual respect between the teams, but also no love lost either.
The truth is Champagne didn’t cost UNA the game. He certainly didn’t help matters with the untimely technical, but the Lions for as hard as they played, hurt themselves with some forced shots and some defensive lapses. There weren’t many, but the Chargers seemed to take advantage of each one.
UNA closes out the home portion of its season Thursday night with a visit from struggling West Georgia. Champagne isn’t calling it a must-win game – “There are 27 must-wins on our schedule,” he said, but the Lions need something positive to happen in a hurry. They’ve dropped three games in a row at a bad time. They need momentum heading into the conference tournament March 7-10 in Birmingham.
“We have to bounce back,” Champagne said. “It’s hard after a three-game losing streak. We have to beat West Georgia, who has been struggling as well. We’re in the same boat.”
And then Champagne reverted to agonizing over the technical foul.
“I don’t think our guys have lost confidence,” he said. “They might be mad at me, and deservedly so. They should be. I talk to them all the time about making the right decisions and I didn’t make the right decision today.”
As he walked toward the locker room, Champagne said something about suspending himself for the next game. Most likely, he was joking. The Lions need his energy on the sideline. Next time, that energy needs to be spent drawing up a winning play instead of berating officials at the key moment. It’s a safe bet Champagne learned that lesson Saturday.