The Wolves (7-8, 4-3 Gulf South Conference) endured a pair of lengthy second-half scoring droughts in consecutive conference losses last week — going 8:01 without a point in a 64-54 decision at Christian Brothers on Jan. 17 and then suffering through a 9:13 stretch without scoring in a 64-57 setback at Delta State two days later.
And with up-tempo North Alabama coming to The Coliseum tonight for a 7:30 GSC contest, UWG coach Michael Cooney knows his team can ill-afford any aforementioned offensive shortcomings against the Lions (12-3, 5-2), who boast the No. 2 offense in the GSC at 78.5 points per game.
“They’re just scary. They play at such a fast pace. They have a roster full of really good players that are very talented. They can shoot it, they can drive it, they can score in the post. They present a huge challenge for us,” Cooney said. “I don’t think we’ll play or have played a team as offensively talented as North Alabama. So we have our work cut out for us.”
The Wolves have focused on moving forward from the pair of frustrating setbacks last week, where they had an opportunity to pull out two road wins but struggled down the stretch of the second half.
“It was disappointing because in both games with under 10 minutes to go we were ahead. And especially the Delta State game, the way we buckled the last five minutes. You have to give Delta State a lot of credit because they just kept hammering it inside and playing really, really tough. I was also disappointed that we didn’t have the moxie in the last five minutes, even when we got behind, to continue to attack,” Cooney said. “We got down and allowed them to score two or three times in a row, where we should have said, ‘Enough. You know, we’re just not going to let you score.’”
North Alabama is led by 6-foot-4 junior guard Rashaun Claiborne, who is seventh in the GSC in scoring (14.3 ppg), ninth in rebounding (6.8 rpg) and 10th in steals (1.53 spg). The Darrow, La., product scored 19 points with 14 rebounds in the Lions’ 81-71 road win at No. 13 Alabama-Huntsville this past Saturday.
Along with Claiborne averaging double-figures offensively, Bruce Adams (12.9 ppg) and DeAndre Hersey (12.8 ppg) are also big scoring threats, while Wes Long (9.8 ppg) is the Lions’ top marksman from beyond the arc.
UNA also features a pair of pesky guards in senior Kenyan Jackson and junior Marquel Darrington.
Jackson ranks second in the GSC in assists (4.47 apg) and eighth in steals (1.67 spg), while Darrington averages 9.2 points per game and is fifth in the GSC in assists (3.33 apg) and third in steals (2.67 spg).
Leading West Georgia offensively has been senior guard Quincy Hill at 13.4 points per game, which ranks 10th in the GSC. The defensive bulldog leads the league in steals at 2.93 per contest.
And the defensive side of the ball is where Cooney said his squad is going to have to win games this season. The UWG coach said the defense has got to create offense to be competitive against the upper-tier teams in the GSC.
“I mean, we’re just not offensively good enough to allow teams to make runs on us. We’ve got to do it with our defense. And if we’re not able to do it with our defense, we’re not going to win. It’s that simple,” Cooney said. “We’re going to hang our hats on the defensive side of the ball. If they score 80 points [tonight], it’s going to be very, very difficult for us to win.”