Lions earn victory on senior night

Senior forward Bilal Richardson fends off a Valdosta State defender during a 78-64 win for the Lions Jan. 23. Richardson and senior John Fletcher each played their last regular season game in Flowers Hall Feb. 20 against Christian Brothers.

As the final buzzer rang in Flowers Hall Feb. 20, Bilal Richardson and John Fletcher, two seniors on the UNA men’s basketball team, received a standing ovation from the home crowd.

Knowing this could be the final home game, depending on where the Lions (16-11, 13-8 Gulf South Conference) land in the conference tournament seeding, the two seniors said they “left everything on the court” in a heart-throbbing 73-71 win over Christian Brothers.

“I always like to win on senior night,” Champagne said. “I don’t know how many senior nights we’ve lost (in previous years). I always like sending those guys out on a high note because they give so much to this program on and off the court.”

The Lions travel to Alabama-Huntsville Feb. 27 for the final regular season game. A win gives UNA a chance to host in the tournament, while a loss would most likely put the Lions on the road in round one.

When we didn’t beat Union the other night, we put (our fate) in someone else’s hands,” Champagne said. “It looks like UAH will finish first, West Georgia second, Union third and it will be between us and Delta State (for the fourth seed and home court advantage).”

Fletcher is the only returning senior from last year’s squad. The junior college transfer from San Diego said he had strong emotions knowing it could be his final home game.

“This crowd treated me great for two years,” Fletcher said. “I’m definitely going to miss it. It would mean the world to me to host another game.”

Fletcher, who finished with nine points on the night, said while it was not his best individual performance, he would not change anything from his senior night.

“My performance personally wasn’t that good, but as a team, we played awesome,” he said. “We had a couple of mistakes here and there, but we pulled through. I’m just happy to see the team win.”

Richardson, who finished with 21 points and seven rebounds against the Buccaneers, said although he only spent one year with the team, he would miss playing in front of the Flowers Hall faithful.

“We had a good audience this year,” Richardson said. “A lot of people showed us support. I just want to thank everybody for coming out and showing their support because we couldn’t do this without them.”

Richardson said he enjoyed winning on senior night, but is ready to turn his focus to UAH.

“It’ll be a great start for us (to host in the tournament),” Richardson said. “This was a game we needed to win. Going into next week, we’re ready.”

The Lions clinched a spot in the tournament Feb. 13, but will find out their final position Feb. 27 after all the GSC teams complete their games.

The eight-team GSC tournament tips off March 2 at the No. 1-4 seeds’ campuses. The semifinals and finals take place March 4-5 at Samford University in Birmingham.