The Lady Statesmen scored the first five points of the game and had a 24-point lead late in the first half. As the game progressed in the second half, North Alabama chipped a way at the lead. With 1.5 seconds left in the game, UNA’s Jennifer Towne nailed a 3-pointer to give the Lady Lions an unbelievable 59-58 victory in Gulf South Conference women’s basketball action. North Alabama improved to 12-2 with a 4-0 mark in the GSC, while DSU fell to 7-4 with a 2-1 mark in the conference.
“We didn’t play real well in the second 20 minutes,” Lady Statesmen head coach David Midlick said. “We told them to be aggressive and not to play any differently. Subconsciously, it looks like we did. Defensively, we went for some steals and we probably shouldn’t have and didn’t block out quite as well. We just weren’t as aggressive on offense. We have no one to blame but us for that situation in the end.”
The Lady Statesmen dominated the first half as they passed the ball around and hit 15-of-24 shots from the field, including 5-of-11 shots from 3-point land. Rhandi Ball did a great job of leading the Lady Statesmen in the first 20 minutes as she made 5-of-6 shots in the half for 11 points and recorded four assists. Chelsey Rhodes, Brooke Rhodes and Seneca Walton hit some big shots to help increase DSU’s lead. Walton hit two free throws with 47 seconds left in the first half to put DSU up 38-14. Towne was able to hit a 3-pointer with 22 seconds left in the half to cut the Lady Statesmen’s advantage to 38-17 going into the lockerroom at halftime.
The Lady Lions came out in the second half and battled the Lady Statesmen hard. North Alabama went on a 23-11 run to cut the Lady Statesmen lead to 49-40 with 5:22 remaining in the game. Delta State caught a break with 5:02 left in the game as UNA's Nichelle Filmore fouled DSU's Chelsey Rhodes, sending her to the free throw line. Rhodes made both of her shots to push the Lady Statesmen's back to 11 points at 51-40. DSU's Brittany Roberts hit a key jump shot to put the Lady Statesmen up 53-40, but UNA’s Lauren Faris drained a 3-pointer to make the score 53-43. The Lady Lions kept chipping away as Sarah Bailey hit a lay-up and was fouled, sending her to the free throw line. She made her free shot, and North Alabama trimmed DSU's lead down to 53-46.
The Lady Statesmen answered right back as Chelsey hit a 3-pointer with 1:54 remaining on the clock to push the lead up to 56-46.
The Lady Lions continued to battle back. Trailing 56-49 with less than a minutes left, Towne went to the free throw line due to a technical foul called on DSU. Towne made both of her foul shots to pull UNA to within five points 56-51. With 9.2 seconds remaining in the game, the Lady Lions hit another big shot as Abby Andrews drained a 3-pointer to cut DSU's lead to 58-56.
The stage was set for Towne to hit her game-winning 3-point field goal in the end. The Lady Lions, who shot just 34.8 percent (8-of-23) from the floor in the first half, shot 51.6 percent (16-of-31) in the second half. The Lady Statesmen had a mere 30.4 percent (7-of-23) field goal shooting mark in the second half.
“They got physical with us in the second half,” Midlick said. “They rode us a little bit up the floor. We need to do a better job of responding. We told them at halftime that they are about to challenge us, and it’s about to get physical. We need to learn from it, and we need to learn how to finish.”
For the game, DSU was 22-of-47 (46.8 percent) from the floor, while North Alabama was 24-of-54 (44.4 percent). North Alabama also outrebounded DSU 23-20, while DSU had 20 turnovers to UNA’s 23.
Chelsey Rhodes led the Lady Statesmen with 14 points including four 3-pointers, followed by Ball with 12 points, six assists and three steals, Walton with 12 points and five rebounds and Brooke Rhodes with 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots.
Bailey was North Alabama’s leading scorer with 11 points, followed by Fillmore with 10 points, Mekena Randle with nine points and Towne and Corinne White with eight points each.
DSU will return to action on Thursday when the team travels to Rome, Ga. to play Shorter University in another GSC contest at 6 p.m.