Tony Pujol doesn’t focus a lot on wins and losses during the nonconference portion of North Alabama’s schedule.
For the second year head coach, it’s about growing and getting better. After Saturday’s 67-57 win over Morehead State, Pujol was smiling.
“I know this was a big step for us,” Pujol said as the Lions evened their season record at 4-4.
In what was possibly one of UNA’s most complete games, the Lions never trailed, held Morehead State (4-4) to 38 percent shooting and when things tightened up down the stretch were 8 of 10 from the free-throw line.
Christian Agnew led the Lions with 17 points and added 8 rebounds. Payton Youngblood finished with 16 points and 6 boards, while Jamari Blackmon had 12 points and 3 assists.
“The bottom line from what I saw was a lot of communication defensively, a lot of guys locked in defensively to their action and their personnel, so that showed me they were really locked in,” Pujol said.
Morehead State missed 20 of its first 21 3-point shots and finished just 3 of 24 as UNA used a combination of zone and man defense to keep the Eagles off balance.
UNA played without forward Manny Littles, who was suspended after last week’s win over Mississippi Valley State. Logan Windeler started in his place, and he and Cam Diggs shared time and combined for six points and five rebounds. Mervin James had a team-high 12 rebounds and seven points to go with Youngblood’s performance. It was just what Pujol wanted to see.
“Rebounding was a concern of mine and it just shows the grit that our guys have,” Pujol said. “For Christian Agnew, a 6-foot guard, to go up and get 8 rebounds – three offensive – it helped our team. Jamari Blackmon, the second half he brought calmness and infused us with our offense. Payton Youngblood. Guys just stepped up.”
Agnew set the early offensive tone for the Lions with nine early points on four drives into the paint and a free throw. That helped the Lions jump in front 16-10. The closest Morehead State got was within 37-35 early in the second half. Youngblood’s two 3-pointers sparked a 10-0 run, and the lead eventually grew to 57-41.
“Getting out in transition and having my teammates get involved was the key,” Agnew said. ““We needed this to take momentum into Troy.”
Youngblood set his season-high with 16 points, including four of the team’s five 3-pointers. He hasn’t had any major issues this season after getting a medical redshirt last year for lingering back problems.
“I was feeling pretty good out there,” he said. “I got into the gym this weekend and got some shots up, and was feeling good.”
Youngblood said the key in the two-game winning streak has been UNA’s staple – defense.
“It’s defense,” he said. “We held them to 22 points in the first half. That was huge. Holding them to 3 of 24 from 3-point was big. We threw a few defenses in there and got them off guard. They like to play with flow and we tried the best to mix it up.”
Morehead whittled a 16-point deficit to 59-54 with 1:43 to play, but the Lions finished it off by making 8 of 10 from the line. After struggling early this season from the free-throw line, they were 18 of 23 Saturday.