FLORENCE — Another big game from Mekena Randle led to another win for North Alabama on Saturday as the Lions held on for a 62-54 victory over Valdosta State.
Randle scored 14 points and pulled down 15 rebounds to spark the Lions (7-2, 2-0 GSC) to their fourth consecutive win. The junior forward had six offensive rebounds, including a crucial one on a missed free throw with just over a minute to play.
“I try to play to my strengths and I’ve always been a pretty good rebounder,” Randle said. “Our whole team stepped up today because it was a big game. We just try to do whatever it takes to get a win.”
Randle helped UNA finish with a 41-29 rebounding advantage over the Blazers (4-2, 0-2). The Lions also benefitted from getting to the free-throw line, although they made just 14 of 24 attempts. Valdosta State only shot three free throws, making two.
“We did a good job of being aggressive and attacking the basket,” coach Terry Fowler said. “We should have been up by eight at halftime if we had made our free throws. But we were able to make them late when we had to have them.”
UNA led 26-24 at halftime and maintained the lead in the second half until the Blazers made a late run to tie it at 49 with 4:58 remaining.
Sarah Bailey then stepped up for UNA, hitting a jumper to give the Lions a 51-49 lead. Randle then scored on a drive and Bailey made 3 of 4 free throws on the next two possessions to put UNA up 56-49 with 2:30 to play.
Valdosta State got a 3-pointer from Brooke Satterfield and a jumper from Kourtnee Williams to pull within two with 1:18 left. Bailey then missed two free throws, but Randle grabbed the offensive rebound and was later fouled. Randle’s two free throws made it 58-54 with 41.1 seconds to play.
After Valdosta State failed to score on its next possession, Jennifer Towne hit two free throws to put it away for UNA.
“Randle gives us something we haven’t had in the past with her rebounding,” Fowler said. “She gave us extra possessions and allowed us to run the clock.”
Despite having almost an entirely new lineup, Randle said the Lions are playing with confidence.
“We’re starting to figure it out,” she said. “We’ve learned from our mistakes and are feeling much more comfortable as a team.”
Nichelle Fillmore led UNA with 16 points. Lauren Faris added 11 points. Williams and Satterfield led the Blazers with 14 points each.
“Lauren Faris has really grown up for us,” Fowler said. “She made good decisions and didn’t turn the ball over. She ran the team well in the final four minutes.
“Winning these first two conference games is huge for us. This is a new experience for this team and wins like this breed confidence. I feel like we’re starting to grow up.”
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.