BIRMINGHAM — Jordan 'Jelly' Walker's return to the lineup was big news. The bigger news, though, was how the entire UAB lineup played in an 86-77 Conference USA streak-busting victory over 19th-ranked FAU on Thursday night before a rowdy crowd at Bartow Arena.
Walker scored 13 points in his first game since bruising his foot against Western Kentucky on Jan. 11. He made just 4 of 12 shots from the field and 2 of 10 from outside the 3-point arc. But he played 27 minutes and got his teammates involved with six assists.
UAB head coach Andy Kennedy used the scoreboard to gauge the way that Walker played in his return to the lineup.
"When he's on the floor, it's just as important with the spacing he creates to allow others to finish," Kennedy said. "He goes for a very pedestrian 13, but we score 86. That's usually two games worth without him. It's good to see us scoring the ball efficiently."
Kennedy played nine players on Thursday night. All of them scored at least three points. Walker, Eric Gaines (21 points) and Tavin Lovan (10 points) were the only Blazers to reach double figures.
"I thought the difference in the game was those supplementary players, who aren't starters on the scouting report, they impacted winning and played well tonight," said FAU head coach Dusty May, who praised the play of Tavin Lovan and Tony Toney off the bench.
May and his team regroup after seeing a national-best 20-game win streak snap. UAB moves forward with a three-game winning streak that includes home wins over Louisiana Tech and FAU and a road win at Rice.
"We've done it really in a variety of ways," Kennedy said. "La Tech, it was a rockfight, really good defensively. We go to Houston, we really kind of controlled the game defensively. And tonight, we get back to scoring 80."
UAB built some comfort late in the first half, using a 14-2 run over the final five minutes to take a 43-30 lead into halftime. The run was punctuated by half-ending 3-pointers by Walker and Ty Brewer.
FAU (21-2 overall, 10-1 C-USA) regrouped at halftime and got back in the game quickly. The Owls got the basket with consistency and put together a 12-2 run in the first four minutes. On this night, though, UAB found a way to answer every challenge. UAB twice got the lead back to 16 points in the second half and held on down the stretch by hitting free throws.
UAB made 26 of 31 free throws, with Gaines hitting 10 of 11. The Blazers outrebounded FAU 45-37, with KJ Buffen grabbing nine and Lovan adding seven. Ty Brewer, who hit a pair of 3-pointers, and Javian Davis (seven points, five rebounds) each played an important role. Both were suspended for the Blazers' win at Rice.
A big part of UAB's success came because they kept FAU from getting hot from outside the 3-point line. FAU, which generally makes its living on 3s, was 8 of 36, with half of those coming in the final minutes.
"Last week against Rice, we showed what we were capable of (on defense)," Lovan said. "We knew we had to do it again tonight, and players stepped up. A big part of the game plan was guard the 3 and make them make tough 2s. I thought we executed the game plan tonight."
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