Blazers spoil senior night for men’s team

Senior DeAndre McKinnie dribbles down the floor against Valdosta State on senior night in Flowers Hall Feb. 18. Valdosta State held off the Lions 77-74, despite McKinnie’s career-high 23 points to lead all scorers.

In a back-and-forth contest that saw 17 lead changes, the North Alabama men’s basketball team could not pull the upset on senior night, falling to No. 25 Valdosta State, 77-74.

The Lions took the 74-73 with a free throw from junior guard Jeff Hodge with 19.3 seconds left. The Gulf South Conference-leading Blazers scored four straight points in the closing minutes to ice the game and hold off UNA’s upset bid.

Two of UNA’s three seniors, DeAndre McKinnie and Dimario Jackson, led the way for UNA with a combined 42 points in the loss. McKinnie, who also earned his first career start, finished with a career-high 23 points and six rebounds.

“I’m not to hurt because we gave it our all tonight,” McKinnie said. “Everybody started to write us off, but I’m not going to write this team off yet. We have a lot left.”

Despite the heartbreaking loss, UNA coach Bobby Champagne said he was pleased with the team’s effort, especially the seniors who played their final game in Flowers Hall.

“That was a totally different team,” Champagne said. “I can’t be upset. They laid it all out there tonight. That’s all you can ask.”

With the defeat, the Lions fall to 8-12 in conference play and 13-13 overall. UNA is now in sole possession of the eighth and final tournament seed heading into the final two games.

The Blazer shot 57 percent from the field in the first half, connecting on 16 of 28 shots. UNA held the game close through the first half, taking a 41-31 deficit into the intermission.

UNA came out of halftime looking for a comeback.

The Lions shot 52 percent from the field, including four three-pointers from McKinnie to help UNA keep pace in the second half before falling victim to the Blazers.

UNA will travel to Union, who is seventh in the conference and one game ahead of UNA at 9-11, in hopes of keeping its GSC tournament hopes alive Feb. 23. The team then closes the regular season Feb. 25 on the road against Christian Brothers (15-10, 12-7 GSC).

 UNA can clinch a tournament birth with a win over Union combined with a loss from Lee against West Florida Feb. 23.