Men’s basketball enters crucial stretch

North Alabama guard Myrek Lee-Fowlkes looks to find a crease in the Delta State defense Jan. 28 at Flowers Hall. The Lions are tied for sixth place after losing two in a row against DSU and Alabama-Huntsville Jan. 30.

The final eight games on the men’s basketball schedule are quickly approaching for North Alabama, and wins are more important than ever.

UNA sits in a three-way tie for sixth place in the Gulf South Conference standings with a 6-8 record, including Monday night’s 105-88 road loss to No. 19 Alabama-Huntsville.

UAH shot 66 percent on field goals and sank 19 three-point shots to propel away from the Lions, who were within three points of tying the game with 3:43 to go.

“When a team makes 19 three pointers, it’s a pretty good day at the office for them,” said UNA head coach Bobby Champagne. “Some of those were contested, but some of those were just really good shots. That changed the complexion of the game.”

Senior forward Austin Timms led the comeback storm for UNA with a career-high 27 points in the loss, going 12-17 from the field and 3-7 from behind the arc.

Coming up for the Lions Feb. 2 are the Lee Flames, which are on UNA’s heels with a 5-9 conference record. The following Saturday, UNA returns to Flowers Hall to host Shorter, who is tied with UNA at 6-8.

The top eight teams at the end of the season make the postseason conference tournament.

“I don’t think there’s a team in the league that anybody would be too fired up about playing in the first round of the conference tournament,” Champagne said. “I still don’t think there’s a whole lot that separates the first place team from the last place team.”

Before dropping the previous two games, UNA rode a four-game winning streak, including wins over Lee and Shorter, and two victories against Mississippi College.

The Lions head into Thursday night coming off three games in a five-day span.

Champagne said he does not see the quick gauntlet of conference games as an issue for the players.

“Playing Thursday, Saturday and Monday works out pretty good because on Wednesdays we practice late,” he said. “That gives the players almost two days of rest before practice, but it’s still a short turnaround for preparation. I think the players like playing games more than they like practice.”

Sophomore guard Tavaras Tolliver, who is averaging 10.1 points per game, said the team has yet to hit its full potential.

“When we dial in, we’re really good,” Tolliver said. “I think most of these teams that’s beaten us have reached their peak, but we’re not even close to ours yet. I think we’re a tough team to guard off the dribble, and we’re defensively pretty hard to beat.”

UNA and Lee tip off from Cleveland, Tennessee, at 8 p.m. EST.