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The UAB Blazers didn’t necessarily capture the Sunshine Slam championship game one half at a time. It was more of an impressive second half that led UAB to an 87-73 victory over Georgia at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, Florida.
“Our guys just hung in there, hung in there, hung in there,” said UAB head coach Andy Kennedy, during his postgame radio show appearance with David Crane. “I thought we put on a clinic for about 10 minutes of the second half of just cutting them up, getting the shots we wanted, whether it be Eric [Gaines] off the bounce, KJ Buffen, I thought was tremendous inside.”
And then there was Jelly.
In the second half, Jordan "Jelly" Walker was 7-of-11 from the field, 3-of-6 on 3-pointers, made both of his free throw attempts and contributed three rebounds, three steals and an assist. He scored 19 of his game-high 30 points in the final 20 minutes.
“Jelly, we’re just accustomed to see him go for 30, I am,” said Kennedy, whose team trailed, 42-41, at halftime. “I didn’t think he played particularly well [in the first half]. I thought he missed a lot of clean looks in the first half. In the second half, when we needed dagger shots, we’re going to go to No. 10.”
UAB took the lead for good when Ledarrius Brewer hit a 3-pointer to give the Blazers a 46-44 lead with 18:18 left. The lead reached double digits for good nine minutes later and peaked at 18 points twice in the final six minutes.
It didn’t just happen on the offensive end. On the other end, the key was Trey Jemison (nine points, nine rebounds) and KJ Buffen (11 points, three rebounds) battling on the inside.
“There was some heavyweight fighting going on in that lane, that’s what you expect when you play a SEC team,” Kennedy said on the radio. “They’re big and they’re physical. They struggled to shoot the ball and we knew that. We forced them to shoot over the top. When we finally were able to keep them in front of us, forced them to take some long jump shots, that’s when the game changed for us.”
Gaines played what Kennedy said was his “best game as a UAB Blazer.” He put up a complete stat line – 14 points, eight assists, six rebounds, a block and a steal - but the biggest stat was just one turnover in 35 minutes. And that turnover came in the final minutes when the outcome was decided.
UAB had just seven turnovers, and Georgia turned the ball over 15 times. UAB won the points off turnover battle, 23-3, and had 18 assists on 35 made baskets.
The win was the first over an SEC team for UAB since winning at Arkansas, 70-65, in overtime on Nov. 26, 2010. The only prior win over Georgia was a 72-56 victory at Bartow Arena on Nov. 21, 2009.
“Huge win for our guys,” Kennedy said. “I’m not sitting here saying that I think Georgia is going to win the SEC. I think they’re going to get better and better, because I know Mike White and I know how good of a coach he is. But, this is a huge step forward for our team. It shows we are capable if we take the right approach.”
UAB returns to Bartow Arena on Saturday at noon when Rhodes College visits.
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