Lions struggle down final stretch of season

North Alabama senior forward Austin Timms eyes up a jump shot against Valdosta State Feb. 18 at home. UNA is reeling after losing six of its last eight games.

The North Alabama men’s basketball team has kept games close, but the Lions have fallen short of expectations in the final stretch of the season after they were picked fourth in the Gulf South Conference preseason poll.

The Lions sit in eighth place in the GSC standings with an 8-12 conference record. UNA can clinch a place in the conference tournament with a win over Union Feb. 23 along with a Lee loss against West Florida the same night.

With two games remaining in the regular season, UNA will face Union Feb. 23, the seventh place team in the standings who is one game ahead of UNA at 9-11 in GSC play. The Lions will then face Christian Brothers (12-8 GSC) to close out the regular season Feb. 25.

UNA head coach Bobby Champagne said the team has to “right the ship” and make the adjustments to win games.

“I don’t have a button on the bench to turn intensity on and off,” Champagne said. “That’s all on them. We have to play at a higher level.”

Senior forward Austin Timms said the team is more concerned about finishing the season strong than what comes after.

“We aren’t too worried about our placement in the tournament right now,” Timms said. “Our focus is doing whatever it takes to win these last two games, regardless of where it puts us.”

UNA has been competitive in the first half of games, but the Lions have not been able to close out games in the second half.

When West Florida came to Florence Feb. 16, the Lions led 46-34 at halftime, but were outscored 52-31 in the second half of the 86-77 defeat.

The defense and offense is where it needs to be, but the team is lacking intensity at times, Timms said.

“We tend to play pretty good in the first half of games, but we come out in the second half less aggressive,” Timms said.

Senior Guard Dimario Jackson said he wants the team to play with an intensity that cannot be matched.

“We have to have the mindset that we are going to do whatever it takes to come out on top because after next Saturday nothing is guaranteed,” Jackson said.

Both of UNA’s senior leaders agree on one thing that can help the team in the last two games and in the GSC tournament — finishing games strongly.

The Lions have lost six out of the last eight games to conference foes. 

Timms said the mindset has to change to be able to be successful in the GSC tournament.

“I think everything is going to fall into place if we keep the mindset of of laying it all out there these last two conference games,” Timms said.

Timms still believes the team can make a meaningful run to close out this season.

“I have confidence we will finish strong,” he said.

The top eight teams in the conference standings will be eligible for tournament play, which begins Feb. 28. The Flor-Ala will post the first-round pairings when they become available.