North Alabama returns to the scene of one its most recent NCAA regional championship today.
The Lions will open play in the NCAA South Regional today at Florida Southern University in Lakeland, Fla. UNA (19-8) is the No. 8 seed and will face No. 1 seed and regional host Florida Southern (24-5).
UNA’s most recent appearance in the regional came in 2008 at Florida Southern. The Lions reeled off three consecutive wins to advance to the Elite Eight.
Ironically, coach Bobby Champagne said today’s opponent reminds him of his 2008 championship team.
“Florida Southern does remind me of our 2008 team because they have so many weapons,” Champagne said. “They have four guys averaging double figures and two others that average nine points per game. They have been playing really well lately and deserve that No. 1 spot.”
Florida Southern is ranked No. 8 nationally. The Moccasins won the regular season and conference tournament in the Sunshine Conference.
Senior guard Seth Evans leads the Moccasins in scoring at 16.1 points per game. Evans is one of the nation’s top 3-point shooters and also ranks second nationally in free-throw percentage.
Junior guard Dominic Lane (13.8 ppg.), sophomore guard Kevin Capers (12.3 ppg.) and senior forward Brett Bailey (10.4 ppg.) also average scoring in double figures. The Moccasins averaged 84.5 points per game and make 8.4 treys per game.
While Florida Southern is on a roll entering the regional, UNA has lost five of its last eight games. The Lions were ousted in the opening round of last week’s Gulf South Conference Tournament by West Florida.
“I was afraid my career was over after the West Florida game,” senior point guard Kenyan Jackson said. “We got lucky and got a second chance, but we know there will be no more second or third chances. You lose again it’s over, so we’ve got to come out mentally ready to play.”
Like Florida Southern, UNA has four players averaging double-figure scoring, led by junior forward Bruce Adams (14.4 ppg.). Senior center DeAndre Hersey (13.1 ppg.) gives the Lions a strong post presence, while junior guard Rashaun Claiborne (13.6) was the Lions’ lone All-GSC selection.
Jackson, who averages a team-leading 3.4 assists per game, said the Lions must get back to doing the things they did early in the season.
“We haven’t been playing together and executing well lately,” Jackson said. “We’ve really been more intense in practice this week. It’s just a matter of fixing some little things and being mentally prepared.”
The winner of today’s game will play the St. Leo-Rollins winner Sunday at 6:30 p.m.
“It’s going to be tough playing such a good team on its home floor,” Champagne said. “But when you get to the NCAA it doesn’t matter who you play because everybody is good. If not, they wouldn’t be here.”
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.