FLORENCE — There was some question Tuesday night if Oakwood College would show up for its scheduled game against North Alabama.
A mix-up in game time led to the Ambassadors arriving at Flowers Hall just five minutes before the scheduled 6 p.m. tip-off and the game started around 15 minutes late.
The late start was just part of a forgettable night for the Lions, who let Oakwood hang around for most of the game before pulling away for a 79-61 victory.
It was the eighth consecutive win to start the season for the Lions, who moved into the national Top 25 for the first time since 2008 with a No. 23 ranking.
“I told our guys that we got into the rankings because of our hard work, not our talent,” coach Bobby Champagne said. “We tried to get by on talent tonight and that’s not how you play. We have to play hard and let your talent take over.
“Oakwood showing up late didn’t help our mental preparation, but we had told the guys that our focus was on us not them. We needed to come out and improve and I don’t think we did that.”
UNA led by just two points with a little over seven minutes remaining against Oakwood, which competes in the United States Collegiate Athletic Association.
“We were a little complacent tonight,” point guard Keynan Jackson said. “We didn’t have the energy that we’ve been playing with. We have to learn to be consistent and play hard every possession.”
Despite forcing 21 turnovers in the first half UNA managed just a 34-29 halftime lead. The Lions were unable to pull away early in the second half and a 5-0 run by Oakwood cut UNA’s lead to 58-56 with 7:25 remaining.
UNA then responded with an 9-0 run. Corey Ricks hit a jumper and later added two free throws to get the run started. The Lions missed the front end of two 1-and-1 opportunities in the spurt, but still pushed the lead to 67-56 on a basket by Rashaun Claiborne and a free throw from Jackson.
After Oakwood cut the margin to 67-58, UNA got two free throws and a jumper from DeAndre Hersey. Wes Long then put it away with a 3-pointer that made it 74-58 with 2:52 to play.
“Once we got rolling offensively we put it away,” Jackson said. “Everybody finally got on the same page, but we have to stop letting our offense dictate how we play defensively.”
Claiborne led UNA with 22 points and 10 rebounds. Hersey added 16 points. The Lions made just 3 of 21 from 3-point range and allowed the Ambassadors (2-8).
“Our focus is on getting the ball inside and we took 14 3’s in the first half,” Champagne said. “We took a lot of bad shots and turned it over 17 times.
“There were some positions, such as Cory Ricks coming in and playing well. I hate to complain when we’re 8-0, but we didn’t play up to our potential tonight.”
UNA played without starting forward Bruce Adams. Champagne said Adams was suspended for a violation of team rules and his status will be evaluated later.
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.