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A frustrating night in finishing from the field didn’t keep UAB backup center Javian Davis from making a key contribution to the Blazers' 80-65 victory over South Florida in the Sunshine Slam at the Ocean Center in Daytona Beach, Florida.

Davis, a 6-foot-9, 265-pound redshirt junior, was just 3-of-8 from the field with most of them coming deep in the paint. But he was also 8-of-9 from the free throw line with eight rebounds, including five on the offensive end, three assists, one blocked shot and one steal.

“JD is a guy that struggles at times when things don’t go good for him initially,” UAB coach Andy Kennedy told David Crane on his postgame radio appearance. “I thought his energy has really been good for us all year. I thought his energy was good early, but he was not finishing plays at the basket. He really got down on himself. He’s got great teammates, who were encouraging him. We know if we throw it in his area, he’s got an opportunity to finish plays.”

Kennedy, whose team advances to Tuesday’s Sunshine Classic championship game against Georgia, singled out Davis’ performance as a step in the right direction. He also pointed out the offensive rebounds.

“Huge for him, 8 for 9 from the free throw line, which shows he’s really put in work,” Kennedy said of Davis, who entered shooting 60 percent from the free throw line. “That’s an area, quite frankly, that he’s struggled in his career. I thought when they were playing that zone, he and KJ really were the separators to keep balls alive off that offensive glass.”

UAB led for most of the first half, partly thanks to a hot start by LeDarrius Brewer, who had eight early points, including a pair of 3-pointers. By halftime, the Blazers led 42-37, with Jordan Walker leading the way with 10 points and Ty Brewer (eight points) and Davis (seven points) making key contributions.

UAB extended the lead to as many as 17 points midway through the second half. The Bulls quickly chipped away at the lead and cut it to 64-58 with 6:48 remaining. UAB responded with a layup by Eric Gaines and a dunk by KJ Buffen. USF never got closer than eight points afterward.

Buffen was a key player for the Blazers in the second half. He had all 10 of his points after halftime and added seven second-half rebounds. Walker finished with a team-high 15 points and five assists but also was careless with the basketball at times.

“The thing that sticks out to me, and this thing has to get corrected,” Kennedy said. “I’m, obviously, scratching my bald head daily about it. Another game, another eight turnovers out of the backcourt, it’s just not winning basketball. Jelly tonight with five and [Gaines] with three. [Gaines] got the early fouls, he got gimpy [with a left leg injury] and he got casual with the ball. We’ve got to get those guys tightened up if we’re expected to have an opportunity [in the championship game].”

Georgia advanced to play UAB with a 66-53 victory over St. Joseph’s. The Bulldogs led 38-15 at halftime and cruised to the win. Kennedy said he got a chance to see the Bulldogs play earlier this season and had another opportunity on Monday night. Georgia coach Mike White is a former assistant for Kennedy at Ole Miss.

“They are a typical SEC team in that they’re big and athletic and physical,” said Kennedy.

To connect with the author of this story, or to comment, email steve.irvine@1819news.com.

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