VALDOSTA, Ga. — North Alabama got a late basket from DeAndre Hersey, and then blocked two Valdosta State shots in the final seconds to pull out a thrilling 74-73 victory over the Blazers on Saturday night.
Hersey made the layup with 17.1 seconds to play to put UNA on top. Hersey and Rashaun Claiborne then each blocked a shot and the Blazers final attempt at the buzzer bounced off the rim, allowing UNA (16-3, 9-2 GSC) to escape with its fifth consecutive win.
UNA remained tied for first place with Alabama-Huntsville in the Gulf South Conference standings.
“To get a sweep on this road trip is huge,” coach Bobby Champagne said. “That’s the first time we’ve done that since I’ve been here. Our guys just continue to find a way to win.”
Bruce Adams scored 23 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and added six steals to lead UNA. Hersey scored nine of his 13 points in the second half and added three blocked shots.
“I felt like I had let the team down in the first half and had to make up for it,” Hersey said. “I didn’t come out ready to play tonight. It felt great to step up and make some plays.”
Adams and Hersey each made big baskets in the final five minutes as the lead went back and forth. Adams scored on a putback with 1:41 left to give the Lions a 72-69 lead.
The Blazers ( 13-6, 5-6) then got back-to-back baskets to take a 73-72 lead with 34 seconds to go.
UNA had a chance to play for the final shot, but instead went aggressively to the basket.
“I didn’t want to play for the last shot because I wanted us to have a shot at an offensive rebound,” Champagne said. “We were not shooting well, so I figured we might need to get an offensive rebound or we could still foul them.”
After a loose ball went out of bounds, UNA inbounded under its own basket. Hersey found an opening in the lane for a layup that put the Lions ahead 74-73.
“They were playing zone, so I set a screen and then tried to get open,” Hersey said. “Marquel (Darrington) made a great pass and I just had to put it in the hole.”
The Blazers got a look inside but Hersey swatted the ball out of bounds with 6.7 seconds left. Claiborne then blocked David Murray’s shot in the corner and Patrick Diop missed a desperation shot at the buzzer as UNA celebrated its fifth straight conference road win.
“We played really good defense at the end,” Champagne said. “DeAndre did a nice job blocking the shot on the drive and Rashaun made a big play at the end.”
UNA led by 17 in the first half before the Blazers began to chip away at the lead. By halftime, the lead dwindled to 39-36.
The Blazers got back in it at the free-throw line. Valdosta State hit 24 of 29 overall, while UNA was 11 of 15. UNA forced the Blazers in 21 turnovers and turned them into 26 points.
Nathan Spehr added 12 points for the Lions. James Anacreon led five Blazers in double figures with 22 points.
“Bruce was big for us tonight,” Champagne said. “But we seem to have a different person step up every night. We did a good job forcing them into some turnovers and we got some key offensive rebounds.”
UNA will host Christian Brothers on Thursday night.
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.