LAKELAND, Fla. -- North Alabama overcame Tampa’s slow, methodical pace to grind out a 72-68 win in the opening round of the NCAA Division II tournament on Saturday. With the win, UNA advances to the second round to face Tuskegee, 98-95 upset winners against top-seeded and host Florida Southern.
Clinging to a one-point lead in the final minute of play, UNA got a tip-in by Marquel Darrington to grap a 68-65 advantage with 22 seconds remaining. After the two teams traded a pair of free throws to make the score 70-67, the Spartans missed a trio of 3-point attempts in final 15 seconds.
Tampa added one free throw by Jordan Davis before Nathan Spehr put the game out of reach for the Lions with two foul shots with 1.3 seconds to go.
“It seemed like everything was going against us tonight,” UNA head coach Bobby Champagne said. “We were missing shots and getting in foul trouble. Tampa was making it tough on us. Their defense and style of play had a lot to do with that.”
The Lions got off to a slow start, missing their first nine shots from the floor and failing to score in the first 5:09 of playing time. Tampa led 9-0 before a basket by Bruce Adams gave UNA its first points of the night.
After trailing 31-25 at the break, the Lions were able to stay within striking distance, taking their first lead of the game at the 12:01 mark of the second half. Lonnie Smith gave UNA a 44-43 lead with a basket and free throw to convert a three-point play.
North Alabama could never pull away down the stretch. A pair of free throws by Rashaun Claiborne gave UNA a 62-55 lead with 4:54 remaining. The Spartans, however, got a 3-point basket on the ensuing possession and reeled off six consecutive points to pull to within one at 62-61 at the 2:55 mark.
A 3-pointer by Spehr pushed the lead back to four and UNA maintained the lead the rest of the way. Spehr hit 5 of 6 free throws in the final minute to seal the win.
“I know my teammates have confidence in me so I try to stay positive,” said Spehr. “Some of my early shots were not falling, but I was fortunate enough to get another chance.”
Wes Long led the Lions with 16 points, including 11 in the first half to keep UNA in the game. He finished the night 4 of 7 from 3-point range. Claiborne and Spehr added 12 points each for North Alabama.
Eric Moraes led Tampa (20-10) with a game-high 17 points.
With the win UNA improves to 23-9 on the season.