FLORENCE — The wins may be ugly but they continue to come for North Alabama.
UNA suffered through a miserable day offensively and gave up 18 offensive rebounds to West Alabama, yet still managed to escape with a 74-70 victory Saturday at Flowers Hall.
It was the third consecutive win for UNA (14-3, 7-2 GSC), which is tied with Alabama-Huntsville for first place in the Gulf South Conference halfway though league play.
“That was ugly, but I’m not going to complain about it,” said junior guard Wes Long, who hit two crucial free throws in the final seconds to seal the win. “It’s been a long time since we’ve played 40 good minutes. I’m just glad we seem to always do whatever it takes to win.”
Bruce Adams scored 21 points, while DeAndre Hersey had 14 points and 10 rebounds to lead the Lions, who finished with a season-low seven turnovers.
West Alabama (7-9, 3-6) hurt UNA with its powerful inside game, finishing with a 51-38 rebounding advantage. The Tigers led almost all of the first half and much of the second half before UNA rallied late.
“West Alabama played great,” coach Bobby Champagne said. “We knew we would have a tough time matching up with their big guys. It was an ugly win because West Alabama played so hard and took us out of the things we want to do.”
The Tigers led by as many as nine in the first half before settling for a 37-34 halftime lead. UNA finally regained the lead near the midway mark of the first half when Nathan Spehr and Long hit back-to-back treys in an 8-0 spurt that put the Lions up 50-44.
West Alabama responded and reclaimed the lead twice before another 3-pointer by Long put UNA up for good at 56-54.
“We settled for a lot of tough shots in the first half instead of attacking and creating for each other,” Long said. “We did a better job betting the ball inside in the second half, which opened up the outside game.”
The Lions were not able to put the Tigers away. West Alabama pulled within one with just over five minutes left, but Adams hit two free throws and scored on a layup to push the margin to 62-57. The Tigers again pulled within three on two occasions, but Adams made another layup and Hersey hit two free throws to make it 69-63 with 49.9 seconds to play.
UNA made 9 of 12 free throws in the final three minutes and were 29 of 35 overall at the line.
“We were more aggressive in the second half and that got us to the line,” Champagne said. “Bruce and DeAndre both were able to stay out of foul trouble and play a lot of minutes, which was huge.”
Long finished with 11 points off the bench for UNA. Sandy Underwood paced West Alabama with 20 points and 14 rebounds.
“Our bench outscored their bench 22-2,” Champagne said. “Wes, Nathan and Tyler all hit some big shots and Jere (Vucica) had a crucial rebound late.
“It was an ugly win, but at the end of the season you don’t think of it as ugly — you just see it as a win.”
UNA will be on the road this week for games at West Florida on Thursday and Valdosta State on Saturday.
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.