CLEVELAND, Miss. — It was a comeback for the ages for the North Alabama women Saturday afternoon.
The Lions fell behind by 24 points in the first half and still trailed by seven in the final seconds before pulling out a thrilling 59-58 victory over Delta State in front of a stunned Statesmen crowd.
Freshman Jennifer Towne banked in a desperation 3-pointer with 1.5 seconds remaining to complete the comeback and keep UNA (11-3, 4-0 GSC) unbeaten in Gulf South Conference play.
It was UNA’s first victory over Delta State since 2001 and its first in Cleveland since 1991.
“That was unbelievable,” coach Terry Fowler said. “We told the girls to keep fighting until the horn sounds and that’s what they did. I’m just so proud of this team.”
Towne’s game-winning shot came after a pass had been deflected and she ran down a loose ball. Once she gained possession Towne stepped back and fired the shot from beyond 30 feet near the scorer’s table. The shot banked off the glass, setting off a big celebration.
“I had to fight to get the ball and I wasn’t sure how much time was left,” Towne said. “I did my comfort move of stepping back and then let it fly.
“It didn’t even hit me at first that it went in. Then I saw our bench go crazy. It was a great feeling.”
UNA won despite committing 23 turnovers. Delta State (7-4, 2-1) led by 24 late in the first half and took a 38-17 advantage into halftime.
The Lions slowly chipped away at the lead in the second half and finally cut the margin to single digits with 5:22 to play.
“We kept telling them to play one possession at a time,” Fowler said. “We did a much better job being aggressive offensively in the second half. We always talk about making championship plays and we made a bunch in the second half.”
UNA’s comeback appeared to be falling short, however, when Delta State’s Broke Rhodes hit two free throws to put the Statesmen up 58-51 with 38.2 seconds remaining. After UNA missed a shot, the Statesmen missed a 1-and-1 opportunity and UNA cut the margin to 58-53 on a layup by Nichelle Fillmore with 13.3 seconds left.
After the Lions forced a turnover on the inbounds pass, Abby Andrews buried a 3-pointer from the corner to pull UNA within two with 9.2 seconds to play.
The Lions then forced another turnover on the inbounds pass and got the ball with 8.2 seconds remaining. Towne then knocked down the game-winning 3-pointer.
“This win sort of defines us as a team,” Towne said. “We just kept grinding and never quit. It was just a great feeling.”
Sarah Bailey led UNA with 11 points, followed by Fillmore with 10 and Towne with eight. Chelsey Rhodes led the Statesmen with 14 points.
UNA hosts Union on Saturday.
“To go 4-0 in the conference with a home game coming up is huge,” Fowler said. “This win showed what this team can do if we just believe and trust each other.”
Jeff McIntyre can be reached at 256-740-5737 or jeff.mcintyre@TimesDaily.com.