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BIRMINGHAM — Jelly Walker did Jelly Walker things on Monday night in UAB’s 111-70 win over Alabama State in the regular season opener at Bartow Arena.
He had 38 points. He had five 3-pointers. He was 11-of-11 from the free-throw line. He had a second-half stretch where he hit three consecutive 3-pointers and collected a beautiful pass from Trey Jemison for a fastbreak layup.
“Jelly tonight goes for 38 points and it didn’t seem like he worked nearly as hard as he had to in the past, simply because we have more guys and the spacing is a lot different,” said UAB head coach Andy Kennedy. “As opposed to having to beat three guys to the basket, now he’s beating one, maybe two, and a lot of that is based on the spacing.”
Walker agreed that it’s easier to get open shots with this year’s depth and talent.
“Absolutely,” Walker said. “Even when the team started denying me, you can have someone else bring up the ball, and he has a mismatch. You got to pick your poison with us. It takes a lot of weight off my shoulders. I don’t have to do everything and it makes it easier for me to score. I think this might have been, no disrespect to ASU, the easiest 30-point game I’ve had in college. They were worried about so many other players, like Eric [Gaines]. They were so worried about him getting to the lane, getting [over] to help. When I got the ball, I was wide open [dang] every time.”
Alabama State head coach Tony Madlock, a former assistant coach under Kennedy at Ole Miss, said the game plan was to get the ball out of Walker’s hands quickly.
“He’s a really good player,” Madlock said. “The game plan was when he comes off the screen, we’re blitzing him. We got to get the ball out of his hands. Just bad coverage. Our five man was back too many times, and he hit a couple of good shots when we did things right. He’s a good player, that’s what good players do.”
Early on, it was LeDarrius Brewer causing problems for Alabama State. He hit four 3-pointers in the first half to lead the Blazers to a 53-34 lead at halftime.
In the second half, it was Walker taking over with his teammates getting him the basketball. Gaines was having a solid night with 11 points, four assists, six rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot. But his night ended early when he picked up a pair of technical fouls after having words with Alabama State’s Alex Anderson.
“He’s not a very emotional guy, one of the few on my team who is not,” Kennedy said. “I hate that for him because he was not able to play for the last 13-14 minutes and he needs the reps.”
On this night, though, the Blazers got plenty of contributions throughout. Jemison was sensational in many ways, some of them that showed up in the box score. He had 13 points, going 6-of-7 from the field, six rebounds, two blocked shots and an assist. KJ Buffen was also very good, chipping in eight points, including hitting all six of his free throws, 10 rebounds and two blocked shots.
Alabama State, which brought in a bunch of newcomers, got a strong game from sophomore TJ Madlock, the coach’s son. The younger Madlock had 25 points with five 3-pointers. No one else scored in double figures for the Hornets.
“It’s a new team for us, brand new team,” said Madlock. “Trying to change the culture, trying to get these guys to learn how to compete at a high level, try to play hard, everything with intensity and urgency. It’s going to be a process, it’s not going to happen overnight. I’m glad we came in and we fought. We had a chance a couple of times early. They’ve just got some really good players.”
Madlock came away impressed with the Blazers.
“They are a legitimate top 25 team in the country, I think,” Madlock said. “They’ve got multiple guys back from last year’s team and then the transfers he’s got coming in. Really good team, man, really good coach, so I’ve got to give them a lot of credit.”
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