West Alabama clearly carried the momentum into halftime of Sunday’s NCAA Division II South Regional against Gulf South Conference rival UAH. The Chargers clearly had the recipe to switch that momentum.
“This is an old team,” said UAH head coach John Shulman after his team advanced with a 72-56 win over the Tigers. “We’ve been through the wars. We’ve talked a lot about, ‘Don’t blink.’ We don’t get fazed. We’ve played an unbelievable schedule without (starter) CJ Williamson (at full strength).”
West Alabama outscored UAH, 10-2, over the final 2:52 of the half to turn a 25-25 tie into a 35-27 halftime lead. A big part of the Tigers’ success in the first half came on 3-point shooting with most of the damage done by Justin Allison and many of the long-range shots coming from the left corner. Thaddeus Williams and Allison hit 3-pointers during that stretch.
The Tigers (27-6) were 8 of 15 on 3-pointers in the first half with Allison connecting on 4 of 8 and Williams hitting 3 of 5.
“At halftime, we hadn’t played very good,” Shulman said. “We hadn’t put any pressure on the rim. We tried to go the whole entire half without playing any zone. We talk about all the time, first five minutes are very important. The first five minutes of the second half, we were elite. (Jack) Kostel and (Luke) Burnett at the top of the zone were phenomenal. (Dalton Dodd) came in and was fantastic. Chaney (Johnson) looked like Chaney and Max (Shulman) finally made a shot.”
Put all that together and it took UAH just two minutes to take a 36-35 lead with Johnson sandwiching a three-point play and a 3-pointer around Max Shulman’s 3-pointer. Nine minutes into the half the lead had grown to 10 points and it eventually ballooned to as many as 18 points.
“Listen, if you don’t have fun and you don’t enjoy it, you shouldn’t be doing it,” John Shulman said. “Our kids have fun. I tell you this, we played tight the first half. We didn’t look like we had any joy out there playing. In the second half, we played with joy. We enjoyed it, and we enjoyed the moment.”
Johnson scored 16 of his 23 points in the second half. He made all six shots from the field after halftime and was 9 of 10 from the field overall. His only miss was one of his 3-point attempts. Max Shulman had all 11 of his points after halftime, and he had a team-high seven rebounds. Dodd had 10 points and six rebounds.
The teams had a similar amount of turnovers but UAH (27-7) took better advantage of the miscues. UAH turned 17 West Alabama turnovers into 25 points. West Alabama turned 16 UAH turnovers into 12 points.
Allison had 17 points but only two of them came after halftime. He missed all four of his 3-point attempts in the second half. Williams had 11 of his 13 points in the first half. He was just 1 of 4 in the second half.
UAH and West Alabama shared the GSC title in the regular season. West Alabama captured the GSC Tournament, beating West Georgia in the championship game.
UAH will play unbeaten host Nova Southeastern in the South Region championship game on Tuesday at 6 p.m. CT. The winner advances to play in the Elite Eight quarterfinals on March 21. The quarterfinals, semifinals and championship game will be played at the Ford Center in Evansville, Indiana.
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