VALDOSTA, Ga. — North Alabama came up empty on apotential game-winning possession in final seconds as Valdosta State escaped with a 57-56 victory Saturday night.
Sophomore point guard Lauren Faris had the ball stripped from her at the free-throw line as she drove to the basket with the final seconds ticking off the clock. The Lions (14-7, 7-4 GSC) called a timeout with 5.2 seconds remaining to set up the final play after Valdosta State (11-8, 4-7) missed a one-and-one opportunity.
UNA rallied from an 18-point deficit to take the lead briefly but couldn’t complete the comeback.
“I feel for our kids because they fought hard,” coach Terry Fowler said. “Valdosta State came out hot early and had us a little shell-shocked. It took us a while to recover.
“The last play was on me. We put in our shooters and had Faris attack the basket. Valdosta did a good job defensively, but I should have put us in better position to win.”
The Blazers used some hot shooting to dominate in the first half, leading by 18 at one point before settling for a 35-21 halftime advantage.
UNA rallied in the second half after switching to its zone defense. The change clearly confused the Blazers, who struggled to get off shots before the shot clock expired.
Jennifer Towne capped a 9-0 spurt by converting a three-point play to trim the margin to 40-34. Town later hit two free throws in a 7-0 spurt to put UNA ahead 45-44 with 7:14 remaining.
“Our zone slowed them down and they got a little hesitant offensively,” Fowler said. “We don’t use the zone (often), but it worked well for us.”
The score was tied at 54 when Valdosta State got a 3-pointer from Brittney Nelson to go up 57-54 with 45.6 seconds left. Faris scored on drive to pull UNA within one and the Lions were called for a foul on a loose ball with 8.4 seconds remaining.
Courtney Sprague missed the free throw and UNA got the rebound and pushed the ball just past midcourt before calling timeout. Faris then had the ball stripped away as time expired.
UNA hurt itself with 17 turnovers and made just 14 of 25 free throws.
“We missed 11 free throws and two of them were the front end of one-and-one’s,” Fowler said. “That’s really 13 free throws, which could have been the difference.”
Mekena Randle finished with 21 points and nine rebounds to lead UNA, while Nichelle Fillmore added nine points. Nelson led the Blazers with 22 points.
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.