Cheered on by the loudest crowd Lee has seen in a couple of years, the Flames scored a major upset over a talented University of West Alabama team in Walker Arena on Thursday evening.
Showing patience the entire 40 minutes and converting key free throws despite a couple of key players being on the sidelines, Lee posted its fifth Gulf South Conference victory of the year and ninth overall win, 71-69. The game was tied five times and featured nine lead changes.
The thrilling contest was decided in two areas. The Flames went to the free-throw line 40 times and converted 32. The Tigers had 29 charity tosses and made 19. Lee outrebounded the visitors 35-24. Lee also only turned the basketball over 12 times in the well-played game. West Alabama had just nine floor mistakes.
Cory Billingsley missed a couple of freebies that might have sealed the contest in the closing seconds but the junior still managed to connect on 16-of-20 attempts and finished the contest with 24 points.
“I’m giving the first game ball to our fans,” said coach Tommy Brown after probably his team’s biggest win of the year. “They were certainly a big factor in our victory and I want to tell them how much I appreciated their support tonight.” He added that the second game ball went to (Muniru) Bawa. “He played his best game ever for us, kept rebounds alive for his teammates and was a big part of our zone defense in the middle.”
Brown also noted that his Flames won the game with two regular players on the bench. Tyquan Roberts injured a knee and could be lost for the year. The Flames were up 55-45 when Roberts went out of the game. Jamal Worthington was also forced to the sidelines when he picked up his fifth foul with some seven minutes remaining. Stedmon Ford battled an injury and his status for Saturday’s game with Alabama-Huntsville is questionable.
The heated battle was not decided until the final seconds. Ford made the first of two free throws to give Lee a 71-69 lead. After his second toss missed, the Tigers got the rebound and called a timeout with 1.3 seconds remaining. A long inbounds pass followed and Billingsley was there to knock the basketball away and preserve the victory.
“We didn’t fold down the stretch like we have in earlier games,” explained Brown. “We took care of the basketball and made some good decisions in not trying to attack their shot-blockers. We showed a sign of maturity and I’m proud of this team. They have worked hard and practiced well all season long. I hope we have something to build on.”
With Billingsley leading the way, Ford followed with his best effort in several weeks. He canned three long 3-pointers, grabbed a team-tying six rebounds and finished with 16 points. Worthington, another freshman, had a strong first half before getting into foul trouble. He tallied eight points but more importantly dished off four assists, grabbed six rebounds and blocked one shot. Bawa scored just one point, but ripped down five boards. He was an inside force in 24 minutes of playing time.
Jervon Johnson converted a big layup when Lee surged to the 10-point lead. He totaled five points. Chad Lee was 5-of-5 from the line and also carded five rebounds. The Flames won despite shooting just 34 percent from the field and 37 percent from behind the arc. Again, free throws marked the difference.
West Alabama, led by Desmond Raymond’s 23 points, shot 50 percent from the field. Against Lee’s zone, the Tigers were able to connect on only 6-of-18 treys and grabbed just three offensive rebounds against the fighting Flames.
Four other West Alabama players scored in double figures. Jared Woolfolk added 13. Jarell Byrd and Sandy Underwood tossed in 10 apiece. The Tigers had a 24-16 advantage in points in the paint and outscored Lee 18-8 in points off turnovers. However, Lee outscored the visitors 13-0 in second chance attempts and 15-10 in points off the bench.
It will be Senior Night on Saturday at 7, when the Flames host another team battling for second place in the GSC, Alabama-Huntsville. Brice Sharp and Bawa will be honored before the men’s action begins.
Lady Flames pick up
11th straight GSC win
Hollie German scored 26 points in 29 minutes as the Lee women’s basketball team topped the University of West Alabama in convincing fashion, 79-48 Thursday evening inside Walker Arena.
German shot a sizzling 10-of-17 from the field while converting 4-of-9 from behind the arc. The senior has racked up 2,124 points in her illustrious career and is now just 147 points away from the No. 1 spot on the all-time scoring list. Vikki Clemmons holds the current mark with 2,271 career points.
After a sluggish start to the game the Lady Flames closed the first half on a 15-8 run in the final six minutes to take a 39-28 halftime lead. The second half was more of the same as Lee doubled up the Tigers 40-20 in the final 20 minutes to cruise to the victory.
“I thought we came out flat, and it took us a while to get going. You could see we had just finished up a very tough road trip last week,” noted coach Marty Rowe.
“I was really proud of the way the girls responded late in the first half though. Give West Alabama and coach [Craig] Roden credit, they played a really good first half against us,” added Rowe.
Jenna Adams was a perfect 6-of-6 from the foul line and finished with 19 points in the contest. The junior grabbed six boards and swiped two steals. Senior Karley Miller added eight points as she hit two treys and converted a pair of foul shots.
The Lady Flames hit 26-of-66 (39.4 percent) from the field and continued to shoot the ball well from the charity stripe, connecting on 15-of-17. The Tigers finished at 34.9 percent (15-of-43) shooting from the floor but could only cash in on 2-of-13 (15.4 percent) from the 3-point line.
As the lead ballooned to 30 in the second half Rowe seized the opportunity to give the starters a much needed rest and get some of the reserves some extended playing time. “It was nice to extend the lead at about the six-minute mark of the second half to get some of our reserves in the game,” said Rowe. “They work so hard in practice and that work really showed on the court tonight.”
One of the players who took advantage of the playing time was Christina Johnson. The sophomore finished with seven points and eight rebounds in 14 minutes of action.
Lee dominated on the glass as they won the battle of the boards by a 41-29 margin over the Tigers. The Lady Flames committed just 10 turnovers in the game while forcing UWA into 20 turnovers leading to 24 points for the home team.
With the victory the Lady Flames (18-4, 14-2) have now won 11 consecutive Gulf South Conference (GSC) games and remain in first place with four games remaining. The loss drops West Alabama to 4-20 overall and 1-17 in conference games.
“These final four games are going to be very difficult, especially having to play three road games next week,” acknowledged Rowe.
Lee will wrap up the home-portion of its schedule Saturday, when it welcomes Alabama-Huntsville to Walker Arena for senior night. Opening tip is set for 5 p.m.