The UAB men’s basketball team traveled to Florida on Wednesday hoping to take over sole possession of first place in Conference USA. The Blazers come home searching for answers after dropping a pair of heartbreaking games.
The second one came on Saturday night when UAB wasted a comfortable second half lead, barely got it in overtime and ultimately fell at FIU, 90-87, with the winning points coming when a bad pass turned into a runout three-point play.
“You’re not going to win basketball games when you give up 90 points,” UAB head coach Andy Kennedy said on his radio appearance with David Crane and Mo Finley after the game. “I hate to sound like a broken record, but this team is atrocious defensively. It doesn’t represent anything that I want it to represent on the defensive end. Again, we scored 86 and 87 points on the road and we go 0-2. We don’t guard at all. We have no pride on the defensive end of the court. I have to make changes and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Perhaps it was fitting the night ended with a UAB mistake on a night filled with poor choices and poor execution. UAB (12-4 overall, 3-2 C-USA) took possession with 21 seconds remaining in overtime and the score tied at 87. After running the clock down, point guard Eric Gaines had the ball on the right wing on a busted play. He tried to get the ball to Jordan Walker at the top of the key, but the pass was intercepted by Dashon Gittens.
“It’s one thing to turn it over, but he throws that thing directly across,” Kennedy said. “It could not have been more poor execution. That’s on me.”
Gittens had enough to time to get down the court and score on a layup while being fouled by Ledarrius Brewer. Gittens hit the free throw and UAB was unable to get off a shot.
It was a frustrating end to a frustrating night. For only the second time in his UAB career, Walker was limited to below double digits in scoring. He had five points on 1 of 8 shooting from the field, 1 of 5 on 3-pointers and 2 of 3 at the line. He also committed eight turnovers and sat for much of the overtime period.
“I see one thing and Jelly sees something else, so you’ll probably have to ask him,” Kennedy said on radio when asked by Crane about Walker’s troubles. “He’s seen every defense known to man. He’s got to play within what the game gives him. When you’re the nation’s leading scorer, you’re the reigning Player of the Year in the league, you have to understand you’re going to get special attention. That’s actually a compliment to you. And you just have to play through that.”
For much of the game, it looked like that wouldn’t matter. UAB led for more than 36 minutes of the 45-minute game. Ledarrius Brewer was outstanding in the first half, scoring 13 of his 15 points and hitting all three of his 3-pointers in the first 20 minutes. Trey Jemison, who finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds and three blocked shots, controlled the post. Gaines, who had 19 points and seven assists, was getting to the basket.
The Blazers led, 39-31, at halftime and extended the lead to as many as 12 points in the second half. But defensive lapses led to wide open shots for the Panthers (8-7 overall, 2-2 C-USA). Nick Guadarrama, who made nine 3-pointers in the first 14 games, had four 3-pointers in the second half and five overall. Denver Jones had 12 of his 29 points in the second half and Arturo Dean also had 12 second half points.
Dean’s layup with 46 seconds left gave FIU a 78-77 lead, and he added a free throw 25 seconds later. UAB was able to force overtime when Jemison tipped in a basket with four seconds left and blocked a shot just before the buzzer at the other end.
In the overtime, UAB led by as many as five points but the Blazers made too many late mistakes.
“Everything is on me, I know it,” Kennedy said. “It’s all on me. I put this team together, I deal with them on a daily basis. I am the one coaching them. I am the one that cannot seem to get it in their heads that we must guard at a higher rate. But, this ain’t my first rodeo. I’m not afraid to do what is necessary and that will be done.”
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