Last season, the UAB Blazers took the college basketball world by storm, becoming one of America’s favourite teams in the opening weekend of the 2015 NCAA Tournament. Their upset victory over the Iowa State Cyclones, as a 14-seed, caught the attention of seemingly everyone, and they are looking to re-create that magic this season.
Coming into Saturday’s action, the Blazers had a two-game lead in the race for the conference title. They were looking to keep that lead with a win over the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers.
UAB was also looking for a bit of redemption against the Hilltoppers, as Western Kentucky knocked off the Blazers in their first meeting of the season, 69-62. The season series switched to Birmingham, AL, and the Blazers were looking for one last home win on their home court before post-season play begins.
On Senior Night, it was the Blazers’ lone senior who led the team to victory. Guard Robert Brown scored a team-high 12 points to propel the Blazers past the Hilltoppers, 71-67.
The Hilltoppers came out of the gate looking to spoil the special night for the Blazers. Western Kentucky opened the game on a 16-6 run, capped off by a pair of free throws from Justin Johnson.
Nigel Snipes would hit a three pointer shortly thereafter to push the Hilltoppers’ lead to 21-10 with just over 11 to play in the half.
UAB would start to chip away at the lead, as they looked to get back into the game before it got out of hand. A mini 7-0 run following the three from Snipes got UAB right back into the contest, down just 21-17 with plenty of time on the clock.
The Blazers would come all the way back thanks to a three from Nick Norton at the 3:53 mark, taking a 27-25 lead. They would hold the lead the rest of the opening half, taking a 31-29 advantage into the break.
Western Kentucky wasted little time to eliminate the lead in the second half, as Fredrick Edmond hit a three on the first field goal attempt of the half to push the Hilltoppers back in front by 1.
Both teams would take turns holding a lead in the opening minutes of the half, before UAB went ahead 45-42 on a three ball from Hakeem Baxter with 13:41 to play. The lead would get stretched to as many as 10 points with under to play.
With the roles reversed in comparison to the first half, it was Western Kentucky’s turn to make a comeback and try to get back into the game.
Johnson made a layup on the next possession after the Blazers pushed their lead to double-digits, and the Hilltoppers fought down the stretch to eliminate the lead for UAB. They were able to get within 3 points with 1:48 to play in the game, but that was as close as they would get down the stretch.
Strong free throw shooting in the closing minute from Norton and William Lee helped the Blazers hold off the Hilltoppers, and pushed UAB to the 71-67 victory.
For the visiting Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, four different players scored in double digits on the afternoon. Justin Johnson scored a game-high 19 points to go along with 7 rebounds to lead the way, while Nigel Snipes added 14 points and Fredrick Edmond chipped in with 13 points of his own.
Aaron Cosby was held in check on the afternoon, recording just 4 points on 1-of-8 shooting from the floor.
As for the hometown UAB Blazers, a balanced scoring attack led them to a big conference victory. Six players for the Blazers recorded at least 8 points on the day, including senior Robert Brown, who scored a team-high 12 points.
Tosin Mehinti and Lewis Sullivan each chipped in 10 points, while William Lee and Dirk Williams added 9 points apiece.
With the loss, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (14-15, 6-10) find themselves going the wrong way in the conference standings. The loss put an end to their two game winning streak, halting any momentum they had from their road win over the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. Two home games remain for the Hilltoppers, with the first coming on Thursday against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles.
The win gave the UAB Blazers (24-5, 14-2) at least a share of the regular season crown in the Conference USA, as they are 2.5 games up on the Marshall Thundering Herd, who have one game in hand on the Blazers. UAB will look to end the season on a high note when they head on a two-game road trip to close out the regular season. They take on the Florida International Golden Panthers on Thursday night.