On Thursday night, UAB lost a heartbreaker in the Super Pit to North Texas 82-79 in double overtime. UAB’s record now falls to 17-8 overall and 8-6 in Conference USA. The Blazers fought hard and did some things right in the game such as limiting turnovers and shooting the three well. Andy Kennedy’s bunch only had 11 turnovers in this game after having 22 the previous game at home against FIU. The Blazers also shot well beyond the arc, converting 12/28 for 42.9%. Jordan Walker led the team in scoring with 20 points. One thing that UAB definitely struggled with was getting to the free throw line and then making them. Very uncharacteristic of this team, the Blazers only got to the line 10 times and only made 5 free throws. One can argue the Blazers really went 5/11 because Javian Davis got another chance at a free throw due to a lane violation call on North Texas but also missed. UAB also did not rebound the ball well, getting outrebounded 39 to 32. Andy Kennedy said postgame: “I am proud of our guys’ fight…the thing that jumps out to me, looking at the stat sheet is we go 5/10 at the foul line.”
Now it’s time to look forward to the next opportunity where UAB looks to continue to improve each game. This Saturday February 11th, Andy Kennedy and the Blazers have another opportunity to prove that and get a win to improve their seeding in the conference tournament in Frisco, TX next month. The Blazers will host the Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee in this year’s “Bartow Classic” in Bartow Arena. Both of these teams currently sit in a tie for third place in the Conference USA standings thus setting up a huge matchup. UAB owns the overall series 17-11 over the Blue Raiders and prior to the last meeting had won 7 in a row in the series. Middle Tennessee comes into this matchup with a record of 15-10 overall and 8-6 in CUSA. The Blue Raiders are coming off a loss in their “100 Miles of Hate” rivalry game at Western Kentucky 93-89 but have been playing good basketball. Both of these teams are eyeing a top seed for the CUSA tournament thus making this matchup a big game in the conference.
Lately, when these two teams meet on the hardwood it seems to be a really good game and go down to the wire. The last two times these programs have played each other the games have gone to overtime. Last season’s semi-final game in the Conference USA tournament was a triple overtime thriller and this season’s first contest, just a few weeks ago, went into overtime. Something tells me that this Saturday’s matchup won’t be the last meeting between the two this season because they might meet again in a few weeks in the conference tournament.
Middle Tennessee is a very good all-around team and has been for the last few seasons. Blue Raiders head coach Nick McDevitt has simply done a great job with this program the past few years and he even won the 2021-22 Conference USA Coach of the Year last season. This season’s Blue Raider team is well-balanced and has a couple of guys that UAB fans will need to keep a close eye on this Saturday in Bartow. The first player is 6 ‘6 ” forward Deandre Dishman that just seems to play well against UAB. In the first game in Murfreesboro, Dishman led the Blue Raiders with 15 points and was 4/8 from the field. In the Conference USA Tournament Semi-Final game last season he also had a team high 25 points for the Blue Raiders. The second player to keep an eye on is 6’5” guard Eli Lawrence who also had some success against UAB the last outing scoring 13 points. Now let’s get to those 3 keys to getting a blazer victory this Saturday:
- Jelly Time
It’s important for Jordan “Jelly” Walker to continue to find his way back to being the electric scorer that he was before getting injured against Western Kentucky earlier this season. Now against North Texas, Walker was able to get 20 points and led the Blazers in scoring but he was just 8/20 shooting and 0/1 from the free throw line. Blazer fans will be happy to know that there is one program Walker can find a way to “get right” against and that is Middle Tennessee. In both meetings last season between UAB and Middle Tennessee, Walker averaged 41 points per game. The first contest in Bartow Arena on February 5, 2022, Walker broke the UAB single game scoring record (previously held by head coach Andy Kennedy) by scoring 42 points. In the second meeting in the semi-finals of the Conference USA tournament in Frisco, Walker scored 40 points and had the whole nation buzzing about his electric performance that sent the Blazers to the CUSA Championship game against Louisiana Tech. After beating Tech, Walker played a pivotal role in clinching UAB’s first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since the 2014-2015 season. This is the perfect opportunity for Jelly to get back to being the Jelly UAB fans know and love.
- Bring the Defensive Intensity
If there’s a weakness to point out with this Middle Tennessee team is that they can be susceptible to pressure and become sloppy with the ball at times. The Blue Raiders average right around 14 turnovers per game and in the last meeting UAB was able to force them into 16 turnovers. UAB seems to have picked up its defensive intensity these last couple of weeks thanks to the energy brought by guys like Tony Toney. UAB will definitely need another strong defensive performance especially if the Blazers struggle shooting the ball like they did last time against Middle Tennessee. The Blazers need to also make sure to bring the defensive intensity but without fouling. UAB committed 20 fouls (including 4 technical fouls) in the Murphy Center last time these two teams met. UAB starter KJ Buffen fouled out of that contest and both Trey Jemison and Eric Gaines were close to joining him as each had 4 fouls.
- Controlling Dishman
This last key really goes hand-in-hand with the previous key in bringing the defensive intensity, but UAB will need to focus on foreward Deandre Dishman. As mentioned previously, Dishman seems to have a knack for giving UAB and its big men fits down low. Not only will Trey Jemison need to have another solid defensive outing but KJ Buffen could be tasked with defending Dishman at times. UAB will need a solid performance out of everyone to contain Dishman. If UAB can limit Dishman and find a way to force Middle Tennessee’s guards into some bad decisions then I think UAB should come away with a win this Saturday.
UAB 75 Middle Tennessee 68