UAB shot 70.4% from field in the second half on Saturday at UTSA. The Blazers needed every one of those buckets – not to mention seven second-half free throws – to finally pull out a tougher-than-expected 83-78 victory over the last place team in Conference USA.
“It’s not easy on the road,” said UAB head coach Andy Kennedy on his postgame radio visit with David Crane. “I know UTSA has had a tough year. (The Roadrunners were) coming off an impressive win, when they were dominant against Rice. Sometimes when you haven’t felt victory in a while, when you get that first one, boy, it infuses you with energy. I thought they came out and really attacked us.”
UTSA (8-20 overall, 2-15 conference) scored the first 11 points of the game, setting the tone for the afternoon. UAB (20-8 overall, 11-6 conference) fought back to even things up, eventually taking its first lead at 19-18. However, UTSA closed the half strong and carried a 41-35 lead into halftime.
“We just didn’t guard,” Kennedy said. “To add to that, we shot 32% in the first half. I thought our offense hurt our defense in the first half.”
It didn’t take long in the second half for things to get worse, even though the Blazers scored the first two points of the half. Jordan ‘Jelly’ Walker drew his third foul with 16:54 left and his fourth foul with 16:07 left. At the time of his fourth foul, UAB trailed 48-40. Four seconds after his departure, Roadrunner guard John Buggs III hit a 3-pointer.
“Jelly picks up his fourth, we have to go with a dysfunctional lineup, and those guys really stepped up,” Kennedy said. “I thought it was the key to the game, when Jelly was out, we made a little bit of a push and he closed it for us.”
KJ Buffen started things by hitting a 3-pointer to trim the deficit back to eight points. Walker didn’t come back until nearly eight minutes had elapsed on the game clock. When he returned the floor, the Blazers trailed 63-60. Key contributions with Walker on the bench came from Buffen, Ty Brewer, Trey Jemison, Javian Davis, Tony Toney and Efrem ‘Butta’ Johnson.
“It was defense,” Kennedy said. “If I remember correctly, (Eric Gaines) wasn’t in either. We were more physical on defense, I had Butta running the 1. So, in your mind, as a coach, you say, ‘OK, where do we get offense?’ That’s when KJ Buffen stepped up, Ty Brewer with defense to offense and offensive glass, Trey with a huge hook. Different guys stepped up and we attacked them inside out.”
Walker fed Buffen for a dunk shortly after getting back on the floor and then scored 12 points over the final five minutes, including a huge 3-pointer with 1:02 left. UAB took the lead for good – at 73-71 - with 2:59 left on a three-point play by Buffen. Walker’s 3-pointer gave UAB an 80-74 lead and the Blazers held on to win.
Walker finished with 25 points on 8 of 19 shooting from the field, 4 of 9 on 3-pointers and 5 of 6 at the free throw line. He added four rebounds and four assists. Buffen 13 of his 16 points after halftime and Brewer scored eight of his 12 points in the second half. Brewer added seven rebounds, a block and a steal. Jemison had eight points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots.
“I could tell we were a little bit flat, early, and I kept telling them, guys, you cannot get bored with the process,” Kennedy said. “I wrote on the board, ‘28’. This is our 28th game. We’re only guaranteed 32. We got six seniors, who knows when the next (game) is going to come. Don’t ever lose the joy for playing. UTSA had us pretty joyless for like 27 minutes. Thankfully we’ll have a little joy coming back to Birmingham."
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