BIRMINGHAM – Returning home to Bartow Arena didn't cure the ills of the UAB men's basketball team. Instead, the Blazers are still trying to find their way out of a funk after dropping a third consecutive one-possession game.
This time it was Western Kentucky finding a way to pull out an 80-78 victory on a night when the Blazers were once again their worst enemy at the end of the game.
"Sometimes, we want to look inward and see all the things we did wrong," said UAB head coach Andy Kennedy. "Certainly, we did a lot of things wrong. They made big shot after big shot. We give up 80 again and have (an opponent) go for 27. Maybe it is, and we can't do anything about it. Disappointed we couldn't stop the bleeding."
One of the game's biggest plays came with about 30 seconds left when Western Kentucky's Tyrone Marshall drove the baseline and collided with Eric Gaines before missing an off-balance shot. The ball caromed into a WKU player's hands, who stumbled backward before dishing the ball on the wing. Dontaie Allen caught the ball and hit a 3-pointer to give the Hilltoppers a 76-73 lead.
UAB (12-5 overall, 3-3 C-USA) came down and let the defense settle in before Kennedy decided what play to call. Before he could, Jordan' Jelly' Walker fired a 3-pointer that missed everything and went out of bounds. Dayvion McKnight, who finished with 27 points, made five free throws in the final 13 seconds for the Hilltoppers (10-6 overall, 2-3 C-USA), but UAB didn't go away.
Walker made two free throws with 7.5 seconds left and a 3-pointer with 1.6 seconds left. UAB trailed 80-78 and were inbounding from its own baseline with 0.9 seconds left. KJ Buffen caught a pass at midcourt, pivoted, and his shot was just wide left as the buzzer sounded.
"Not only are we not getting the stops we need, but we look like we lose our poise in pressure situations on the offensive end," Kennedy said. "You combine those two, you're looking at a three-game losing streak, and that's what we're looking at."
It was a tight game from the outset, with both teams looking to turn things around. UAB was coming off the two losses in Florida, and Western Kentucky began C-USA play with three losses in the first four games. UAB played with more intensity on the defensive end but still had trouble keeping the Hilltoppers from making baskets. Western Kentucky shot 50 percent from the field in the second half and 47.5 percent overall.
UAB also had offensive success. Walker, who was coming off perhaps his worst game in a UAB uniform, had 28 points on 9 of 18 shooting overall and 7 of 15 on 3-pointers. The Blazers also did a good job of attacking 7-foot-5 center Jamarion Sharp, who had three blocked shots and fouled out of the game. UAB's Trey Jemison (10 points, 14 rebounds) and Buffen (14 points, 11 rebounds) took the ball right out Sharp, particularly in the second half.
"If you try to work around him, it's nearly impossible because of his length," Kennedy said of Sharp. "You have to try to go through him."
UAB also outrebounded Western Kentucky, 44-30, and won the second chance points category, 15-7. But turnovers hurt the Blazers once again. UAB turned the ball over 14 times, including once late in a key situation, and WKU turned those into 13 points.
"We're up seven with eight minutes to play and can't close it out," Kennedy said. "We had kind of a turnover that led to a four-point swing. Again, it's just things that are head-scratching by the guys (who are) doing it."
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