ST. THOMAS — For a good portion of the first half, the University of the Virgin Islands’ men’s basketball team found itself playing a close game with an NCAA Division I team.

But things fell apart for the Buccaneers, as the University of North Alabama pulled away for a 99-47 victory Saturday at the UVI Sports and Fitness Center.

A combination of poor shooting and turnovers doomed winless UVI (0-6) in its first-ever matchup against a D-I team — and that after the Lions’ head coach and three players were unable to be at the game.

“The first half, we played good,” Buccaneers head coach Alfonzo Duncan said. “We were within four [points], but our inexperience again raised its ugly head. With a young team, you kinda expect that … but I thought we would’ve had a chance had we not dug ourselves that hole.

“We knew [North Alabama] was good, because they’ve been together. In some ways, some of the stuff that took place I expected to happen. We’re just young.”

Jamal Norris led UVI with 14 points, and was the only player to finish in double figures for the Buccaneers.

Five players finished in double figures for North Alabama (1-1), led by a game-high 20 points from reserve Daniel Ortiz. Dallas Howell added 14 points, Omar Figueroa 11 points and C.J. Brim and Will Soucie had 10 points each.

Missing coach, players

North Alabama was without head coach Tony Pujol and three players — junior guard Aleksa Matic, freshman guard Detalian Brown and freshman forward Deraje Agbaosi — due to the territory’s COVID-19 mandates, which require all participants in group activities to be vaccinated.

That left running the Lions in the hands of assistant coach Ahmad Smith, with Pujol and the three players remaining at the team’s hotel during Saturday’s game.

“I guess with some of the new mandates, they had to stay back at the hotel,” Smith said. “It’s something that happened overnight. It’s one of those deals where we had to make do and figure things out. We worked it out, and it was fine.”

Turning point

UVI never led in Saturday’s game, but the Buccaneers were within two points twice, the last at 18-16 on LiWayne Richardson’s layup with 10 minutes, 1 second left in the first half, and were within 20-16 with less than 8½ minutes remaining.

That’s when North Alabama revved its defense up, and things began getting out of hand for UVI. Howell’s 3-pointer with 8:24 left kicked off a 20-5 Lions run to close out the half with North Alabama ahead 40-21.

The Lions would then open the second half with 15 unanswered points, pushing their lead to 55-21 with 15:25 left, and it was downhill for the Buccaneers from that point. North Alabama took its biggest lead in the final two minutes, going up 99-44 on Soucie’s layup with 1:40 remaining.

Key players

Jamal Norris, University of the Virgin Islands: The 6-foot-4 freshman and Buccaneers’ leading scorer (18 points per game) had an off-night shooting, making just 4 of 15 from the field, including 2 of 8 3-pointers, and 4 of 6 free throws.

Daniel Ortiz, North Alabama: The 6-foot freshman had a career night for the Lions. After scoring just two points against Mississippi State on Wednesday, he pumped in 6 of 8 shots (including a 4 for 4 effort on 3-pointers) and 4 of 4 on free throws. He also had a team-best six assists and four steals.

Observations

• UVI had its worst shooting game of the season against North Alabama, making just 10 of 45 attempts (22.2%) and 2 of 10 on 3-pointers. However, the Buccaneers also had their best game from the free throw line, making 25 of 35 attempts (71.4%).

• Meanwhile, the Lions had their best game of the brief season, making 39 of 77 shots (50.6%), including 13 of 37 3-pointers. However, North Alabama spent little time at the free throw line, making only 8 of 9 attempts.

• An ongoing problem for UVI was a big factor in Saturday’s game. The Buccaneers turned the ball over 27 times (18 in the first half alone), which led to 33 points for the Lions.

• A problem area for North Alabama was its propensity to foul. The Lions got whistled for 30 fouls Saturday, leading to UVI’s season-best performance at the free throw line.

Up next

The Buccaneers open a three-game road trip in Ohio on Thursday with the first of two games against Wilberforce University, followed by a matchup against Central State University on Saturday.

— Contact Sports Editor Bill Kiser at 340-714-9117, or email bkiser@dailynews.vi.