Morehead State won't get in a hurry in Sunday afternoon's NIT second-round game against UAB at Bartow Arena.
The Eagles are one of the more deliberate teams in college basketball. Fortunately for UAB, the Blazers are experienced against that style.
"Their pace of play is 351st in the country, but we're used to that," UAB head coach Andy Kennedy said. "We have two teams in our league in North Texas, who plays the slowest of anybody in college basketball and Charlotte, who we just played a few weeks ago, that plays in the 350s. We understand ball-control offensive teams and have had experience against them. We just got to make sure we guard the 3-point line, and we're locked in defensively where we can kind of create some offense with our defense, so we get the tempo where we need it."
Kennedy calls Morehead State "a very dependent 3-point shooting team." Junior swingman Kalil Thomas has a team-best 63 3-pointers, with senior point guard Mark Freeman contributing 53 3-pointers. Five Morehead State players have at least 28 3-pointers, and the Eagles have made 247 long-range shots as a team. UAB has 257 3-pointers this season, but Jordan "Jelly" Walker has 129 of them. Walker is third in the country in 3-pointers made per game.
UAB has more options from inside the 3-point arc, especially if KJ Buffen can take over inside the paint like he did against Southern Miss.
"From two-point range, (Morehead State is) not nearly as effective," Kennedy said.
Morehead State's Alex Gross is the Eagles' top threat to score inside. The 6-foot-10, 250-pound graduate student averages 12 points per game while shooting 57.1 from the field. He has not attempted a 3-pointer. Gross was a two-time NAIA All-American in four seasons at Olivet Nazarene in Illinois. He had 2,021 career points at Olivet Nazarene. Gross had 16 points, hitting 7 of 9 from the field and nine rebounds in the NIT win at Clemson.
Kennedy said the key for his team remains the same.
"We just got to continue to stay true to who we are," Kennedy said. "When we've done that, meaning win points in the paint, do a great job off the glass, win the free throw line, limit turnovers, be disruptive defensively, share the ball offensively. When you see us play to that formula, we've won 26 games, we've been pretty good at it. When you get off of that, we're not locked in defensively. We're loose and careless with the ball and not playing with the physicality where we don't dominate like we should in that painted area. All those things were the case against FAU. Then you're not going to win because that's not who we are."
If UAB plays up to those expectations in Sunday's game, which tips off at 2 p.m., the Blazers will extend the season for at least one more game. Today's winner will travel to play at Vanderbilt in the NIT quarterfinals on Tuesday or Wednesday. Vanderbilt trailed by eight points with 1:45 remaining but came back to claim a 66-65 victory over Michigan in a Round of 16 game on Saturday.
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