FLORENCE — With points at a premium Saturday the North Alabama women came up with just enough hustle plays to get the job done.
The Lions grinded for 40 minutes before pulling away in the final minutes to claim a 52-42 victory over Delta State.
With the win UNA (16-7, 9-4 GSC) moved into second place in the GSC standings, a half game ahead of Delta State (13-7, 8-4) and one game behind Union. The win also gave the Lions a sweep of the Statesmen in the regular season.
The matchup of the two top defensive teams in the conference produced a defensive struggle. Both teams struggled offensively and neither team made a 3-pointer until Delta State hit one in the closing seconds.
“Coach told us it was the two best defensive teams in the conference, so we would see which defense would step up,” freshman guard Jennifer Towne said.
“We had to stay focused and not lose anybody. We just kept grinding and didn’t let up.”
Delta State shot just 29.3 percent for the game. The Lions shot the ball better (46.3 percent), but hurt themselves with 22 turnovers and made just 14 of 26 free-throw attempts.
“It was just a classic ugly basketball game,” coach Terry Fowler said. “I expected it to be that way because it was two good defenses going at it. I figured the first team to get to 50 had a good chance to win and we were able to get there.”
With leading scorer Mekena Randle on the bench for most of the fist half with two fouls, the Lions struggled to score. Delta State led by five early before settling for a 22-21 halftime lead.
Sarah Bailey gave UNA a spark early in the second half, scoring four points in an 8-0 run that put the Lions up 31-26. Delta State was unable to cut into the lead until just under the five-minute mark when UNA began to turn the ball over.
Two straight UNA turnovers allowed Delta State to pull within a basket at 41-39 with 4:40 remaining.
“Even after all of the turnovers we were keeping each other up,” Towne said. “We were not about to back down at that point.”
Bailey again stepped up for the Lions. The senior guard made a key play on a missed free throw to help UNA retain possession and then scored on the inbounds pass to push the lead to 44-39. Bailey then deflected a pass and got the ball to Towne on the break for a layup that made it 46-49 with 2:40 to play.
“We kept looking to get the lead to six or eight and we finally did,” Fowler said. “Sarah came up with some big hustle plays for us. That stretch gave us the separation we needed.”
Towne and Lauren Faris each made three free throws in the final 90 seconds to seal the win.
Fillmore led UNA with 15 points, followed by Towne with 13 and Bailey with 10. Seneca Walton paced Delta State with 13 points.
UNA will not play again until traveling to Union on Saturday.
“Getting the sweep against Delta is big because we have the tiebreaker on them,” Fowler said. “Now we have some time to practice and concentrate on getting better. If we can do that and limit our mistakes this team can be really good.”