LIVINGSTON — North Alabama got back to doing what it does best Saturday against West Alabama.
The Lions struggled for much of game yet somehow found a way to escape with an 81-77 victory over the Tigers in the regular-season finale.
UNA (19-7, 12-6 GSC) broke a four-game losing streak at Pruitt Hall and will take a two-game winning streak into this week’s Gulf South Conference Tournament.
“This was an ugly win, and that’s good because we’re back to doing what we do well, which is win ugly,” coach Bobby Champagne said. “Winning ugly is how we got off to a 9-0 start and its how we won a lot of big road games in conference. Our guys showed a lot of guts today.”
The Lions will play West Florida on Friday at 7:30 p.m. in the opening round of the GSC Tournament in Birmingham.
UNA trailed by as many as eight in the second half before rallying late. The Lions overcame some foul trouble and made big plays down the stretch to earn the victory.
“From the beginning of the season this team has shown great determination and mental toughness,” said junior guard Wes Long, who hit a pair of clutch 3-pointers in the final minutes. “We’ve struggled lately, but our approach is to always do whatever it takes to get a win.
“This was huge because we needed it to stay in the region rankings. With all that was at stake I think this is the biggest win of the year.”
West Alabama (10-15, 6-12) led 35-31 and maintained the lead throughout the second half. The Tigers led 62-55 with less than seven minutes remaining when UNA made its move.
A free throw by Bruce Adams and back-to-back 3-pointers by Rashaun Claiborne and Long tied it at 62 with 4:43 to play. The lead went back and forth over the next two minutes and the Tigers led 71-68 with 2:05 to go.
Long then nailed another trey from the top of the key to tie it at 71 and Adams added two free throws to put UNA up 73-71.
“I’ve been struggling and kind of had my head down,” Long said. “My teammates still showed confidence in me and told me to keep shooting. I kept shooting and luckily a couple went in.”
The Tigers still had a chance when Sandy Underwood was fouled in the lane with 39.8 seconds left. Underwood, however, was called for a technical on the play and Adams hit the two free throws to push UNA’s lead to 75-71. Underwood then made 1 of 2 at the line and Marquel Darrington made four straight free throws to seal the win for the Lions.
“West Alabama played really well and made everything tough for us,” Champagne said. “But we made some hustle plays in the final minutes and sealed it with some free throws. It feels good to finally get a win here.”
Adams finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Lions. Claiborne also had 18 points and DeAndre Hersey had 17 before fouling out. Underwood paced the Tigers with 17 points.
“This is the first time I’ve won here in four years,” Long said. “We need to use this as a slingshot to take the momentum into the conference tournament.”
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.