FLORENCE — North Alabama turned its intensity up a few notches in the second half Saturday after against Delta State.
A sluggish start led to just 26 first-half points. The second half was a different story as the Lions started making shots and played hard defense en route to a 73-54 victory.
After shooting 26.7 percent from the field in the opening half UNA (17-4, 10-3 GSC) made 15 of 27 shots in the second half.
“We always seem to start slowly,” said junior guard Rashaun Claiborne, who led UNA with 21 points. “We’ve got to get out of that because it cost us the game against Christian Brothers.
“Coach told us at halftime that we had to come out with more energy. We started playing tough defense and the shots started to fall.”
With the win UNA stays in second place in the Gulf South Conference, one game behind Alabama-Huntsville.
The game featured plenty of hard fouls and tense moments between the two rivals. UNA took advantage of the fouls by making 21 of 27 free throws. The Lions also held a 42-24 rebounding edge over the Statesmen (8-12, 4-8).
“It was a very intense game,” coach Bobby Champagne said. “Delta State did a great job guarding us as well as running their offense in the first half. We were much more aggressive in the second half, which enabled us to get to the free-throw line.”
Despite the poor shooting in the first half, UNA managed to go into halftime on top 26-22. Claiborne then jump-started the offense in the second half, scoring six unanswered points to make it 32-24.
“I was trying to get back in my game,” Claiborne said. “I’ve struggled with my shooting lately, so it felt good when the shots were falling.”
UNA even made a half-court shot accidently when Marquel Darrington’s long lob pass to Bruce Adams banked in off the glass, extending the lead to 41-30.
The Lions put it away midway though the second half. Bruce Adams buried a 3-pointer and scored on a drive, while Claiborne followed with a tip-in and a trey to make it 56-39. The Statesmen would not get closer than 15 points from the lead the rest of the way as UNA iced it at the free-throw line.
“We did a much better job defensively in the second half,” Champagne said. “We extended our press because we didn’t want to get into a halfcourt game with them. Marquel and K.J. (Keynan Jackson) did a nice job pressuring the ball.”
As the final seconds ticked off the clock Delta State called a timeout. Champagne, clearly irritated by the move, drew up a play and freshman Jere Vucica scored on a dunk at the buzzer, causing Delta State coach Jim Boone to leave the floor without the customary postgame handshake.
“We had two freshmen in the game and ran a play for Jere to give him some confidence,” Champagne said. “I can’t speak for why Coach Boone left the floor without shaking hands.”
Adams finished with 13 points and nine rebounds for UNA. Terry Leake led Delta State with 21 points.
UNA will play at Union on Saturday in Jackson, Tenn.
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com. Follow @TD_Jeff McIntyre on twitter.