Lions dominate Chargers for bragging rights

Junior guard Jeff Hodge (right) draws contact during UNA’s 119-103 win against Alabama-Huntsville Jan. 16 in Flowers Hall. Over 1,000 fans were in attendance to watch the rivalry take place.

by Sports Editor Mike Ezekiel

Almost every athlete dreams about playing in a deafening arena full of passionate fans. On a small scale, Flowers Hall fit the bill Jan. 16.

Many in a crowd of 1,328 seemed to hang on every play as the UNA men’s basketball team (10-7, 7-4 Gulf South Conference) nearly eclipsed a school record for points scored in a single game, beating rival Alabama-Huntsville 119-103. The record for most points in a game remains 127.

UNA head coach Bobby Champagne said this was not an expected result.

“You never expect (a blowout) in this game,” Champagne said. “You expect both teams to play well and play with some energy. That’s what this rivalry is all about. It was a lot of fun. To be up 22 points with four minutes to go, I didn’t expect that.”

The arguable climax of the crowd’s excitement came just before the final buzzer as Lions fans knew the victory was well in hand. The final score came on an electrifying dunk by UNA’s junior forward Austin Timms.

“I’ve been waiting on one of those dunks all season,” Timms said. “I had the opportunity, so I just jumped. It felt like I was floating and never coming down. The crowd was in it the whole game, and it felt great.”

Senior guard John Fletcher, who led the team in scoring with his season-high 32 points, said multiple aspects from the game inspired his performance.

“(This win) means everything,” Fletcher said. “It’s my senior year, and it was a good opportunity to get a win against UAH for the last time at home.”

Nine of the 10 players registering minutes for UNA contributed at least six points in the win. The UNA bench players accounted for 32 points.

While many perceive the rivalry to be filled with hatred, Champagne maintains a strong, 15-year friendship with UAH head coach Lennie Acuff.

“Once the season starts, we probably talk once or twice a week,” Champagne said. “I’d say it’s a friendly rivalry. He wants to beat us really bad, and I want to beat them really bad. When the game is over with, it’s over with. There’s nothing personal about it.”

The Lions hold a successful 8-1 record when playing in Flowers Hall this season. Likewise, the Chargers are 7-1 at home inside Spragins Hall and will try to return the favor in front of their home crowd when the Lions visit Feb. 27.

“They will have another electric crowd,” Timms said. “We just have to feed off the energy and feed off each other. If we can make shots like we did today, I feel like we can beat anybody anywhere.”

UNA, who is jockeying for position toward the top of the GSC standings, narrowed the gap between UAH, Delta State and West Georgia. The three teams are tied for first place with an 8-3 conference record, while UNA and Valdosta State are slightly behind at 7-4.

Going into the second half of the conference schedule, the Lions host West Florida Jan. 21 and Valdosta State Jan. 23, both of which handed the Lions losses to begin conference play.

“I think we’ve gotten better (since the first two conference games),” Champagne said. “I think our guys understand that on any given night, if you don’t come to play, everybody in this league is good enough to beat you.”