FLORENCE — North Alabama continues to show it can win in a variety of ways.
With their offense struggling Thursday night the Lions had to rely on defense as they battled unbeaten West Florida. The defense did the job as UNA claimed a 67-55 victory at Flowers Hall in their Gulf South Conference opener.
The Lions (6-0, 1-0 GSC) forced 24 turnovers and scored 28 points off of them as they limited West Florida (5-1, 0-1) to just 47 shots from the field. UNA finished with just 13 turnovers.
“We let our defense dictate the game tonight,” said junior forward Bruce Adams, who finished with 19 points. “We knew they had a couple of guys averaging around 20 points a game and if we held them under their average we would probably win. Our 2-3 zone was really good tonight.”
UNA finished with 18 steals, with Rashaun Claiborne and Marquel Darrington getting four steals each.
“We went with the zone on inbounds plays and it worked well, so we stuck with it,” coach Bobby Champagne said. “The guys did a nice job deflecting passes and forcing the turnovers. And when we got the turnovers we scored off them, which was huge.”
UNA shot 41.4 percent from the field and made just 3 of 16 shots from beyond the arc. The Lions did hit 16 of 20 (80 percent) free throws.
The Lions held an early 29-13 lead before settling for a 31-23 halftime advantage. West Florida pulled within one point of the lead midway through the second half, but the Argonauts never led.
A 6-0 spurt by the Argonauts trimmed UNA’s lead to 43-42 with12:14 remaining. The Lions then forced three consecutive turnovers and scored five straight points to extend the lead to 48-42 after two free throws by Adams.
West Florida cut it back to a three-point margin before Claiborne buried a 3-pointer to make it 51-45. UNA led 51-47 when Adams scored on a putback and Darrington hit a trey to push the lead to 56-47 with 6:29 left.
After a basket by the Argonauts, Adams converted a three-point play to make it 59-49.
“Marquel really stepped up and hit some big shots,” Champagne said. “Bruce’s and-one was also a huge play. Then we played good defense in the final minutes.”
West Florida pulled within five late before Darrington scored on a drive and then hit a jumper to make it 63-54. Nathan Spehr put it away with four straight free throws. UNA held the Argonauts without a field goal over the final four minutes.
“It feels amazing to be 6-0,” Adams said. “This team has great chemistry and we’ve got a lot of weapons. Teams can’t focus on stopping just one guy.”
Darrington and Adams led the way with 19 points each, followed by Claiborne with 10. Ellis Young, the GSC’s leading scorer, led the Argonauts with 15 points.
The 6-0 start is the best for UNA in Champagne’s 11 years as head coach.
“The bottom line is we beat a team that we lost to three times last year and we’re 1-0 in conference play,” Champagne said. “Now we need to play well Saturday and try to get off to a 2-0 start in conference.”
UNA will host Valdosta State on Saturday at 2 p.m.
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at
256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.