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BIRMINGHAM – After trailing by as many as 14 points in the second half, the University of North Alabama men's basketball team had frantic rally fall just short in an 82-78 loss to West Florida Friday night in the opening round of the 2013 Gulf South Conference Tournament.
With the loss, UNA falls to 19-8 on the season and must wait for a Sunday-evening NCAA selection show to find out if it qualifies for next week's South Region Tournament. The Lions entered the GSC tourney ranked No. 7 in the regional rankings.
On Friday, North Alabama trailed 69-55 with 5:40 remaining before closing the game on a 23-13 run. UNA was able to cut the deficit to a single point in the final minute of play and had possession facing a 79-77 deficit with 24 seconds remaining.
Two missed free throws, however, proved costly and the Argonauts connected a pair of fouls shots at the other end of the floor to seal the win. For the game UNA was 14-of-29 from the charity stripe.
"We had our opportunities tonight but didn't capitalize," said UNA head coach Bobby Champagne. "That had a lot to do with how well West Florida played. We still missed a lot of chances, mainly at the free throw line. We will just have to wait and see how the selection show goes. I really hope we get in because I think this team deserves it."
North Alabama trailed 41-30 at the half after the Argonauts (13-14) shot 55.2 percent from the floor, including four three-point baskets. The lead never got below seven points throughout most of the second half.
West Florida led 72-60 with 3:53 remaining before a three-point basket by Wes Long gave the Lions hope. A dunk by Bruce Adams, followed by a free throw by the Argonauts made the score 73-65 before UNA scored five straight points. Another three-pointer by Long was followed by a steal and lay-in by Rashaun Claiborne to make the score 73-70 at the 1:54 mark.
"I really thought we were going to come back and win," said Long. "Everyone on that bench believed we would come back. It just didn't happen tonight."
UWF stretched its lead back to six points and held a 78-74 advantage when a three-pointer by Nathan Spehr made it a one-point game with 32 seconds remaining. After the Argonauts connected on 1-of-2 free throws, the Lions had a chance to tie or take the lead in the closing seconds.
DeAndre Hersey was fouled and missed both free throw attempts and the Lions were unable to recover.
Marquel Darrington scored 24 points to lead North Alabama. Long was 4-for-7 from three-point range and finished with 16 points while Adams tossed in 15 points and Hersey added 12 points for the Lions.