Men’s basketball surges midseason

Senior guard Dimario Jackson tries to make a play off a screen versus Lee Jan. 19. Jackson leads the team in scoring thus far, averaging 15.9 points per game.

The 2016-17 North Alabama men’s basketball season has been full of highs and lows, but as sophomore guard Tavaras Tolliver said after the Lions’ rout of Lee, “things are beginning to turn around.”

UNA is riding a three game winning streak, including an 87-86 road win over Shorter, the second ranked scoring offense in the Gulf South Conference, to improve to 10-7 overall and 5-6 in the GSC.

In the game at Shorter, the UNA defense stopped the GSC leading scorer, Phil Taylor, from hitting a buzzer-beater, adding more fuel to the momentum this team has produced.

“I think we’ve been playing harder and better here lately,” said Lions head coach Bobby Champagne. “After the Union game, I told them that second half effort in that game is not what a UNA basketball team looks like. We take a lot of pride in playing hard and playing with intensity.”

Statistically, the Lions rank middle-of-the-pack in the GSC. The scoring offense is ranked 7th, averaging 79.1 points per game, while the defense is ranked 9th, allowing 79.1 points per game as well.

UNA is near the top of the rankings in a few categories. They are second in offensive rebounds with 13.5 boards per game, while fourth in defensive rebounds with 26.6 per game. The Lions are also stingy when it comes to turnovers, where they rank 2nd in turnover margin of 2.71.

Senior guard Dimario Jackson is the team’s leading scorer thus far, averaging 15.9 points per game in 17 starts this season.

Tavaras Tolliver has become an integral part of the Lions offense during the current three-game win streak. He is the second leading scorer in just eight starts this season, including 20-plus points in victories over Lee Jan. 19 and Shorter Jan. 21.

“We grouped up in practice and worked on everything down to the basics so we could figure out what we needed to work on,” Tolliver said. “Everybody is being positive. Nobody is being negative, and we are pushing each other every day.”

Senior forwards Austin Timms leads the team in rebounds with 7.6 per game, while junior Sharwyn McGee follows up with 6.4 boards per game.

Junior guard Johnell Ginnie has emerged as a rebound threat as well. Initially a bench rotation player, Ginnie has worked his way into a starting role the past few games and has had some near double-doubles.

Rebounds have contributed to several key victories this season for UNA and have allowed the Lions’ offense manageable deficits to overcome.

UNA hosts back-to-back GSC team this week when Mississippi College and Delta State come to Florence Jan. 26 and 28 respectively. They then travel to in state rival Alabama-Huntsville Jan. 30.