The following is from the UAB Athletics Department:
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – It was a dream ending – literally – for UAB head coach Robert Ehsan in his team’s 74-73 victory over Charlotte in a Conference USA Men’s Basketball Championship first round game at Legacy Arena.
“I told (Charlotte guard) Jon Davis after the game that I had a dream last night that the game was going to come down to him pulling up for a jump shot,” Ehsan said. “I’ve watched so many of their games where when it gets close, he usually has the ball in his hands in that area.”
Ehsan didn’t reveal how his dream ended in last night. In reality, though, Davis’ long range jumper, which came despite a good job of contesting the shot by UAB guard Hakeem Baxter, bounced off the rim and the Blazers survived to play another day.
The hero was UAB junior forward William Lee, who carried the Blazers (17-15) threw a tense final minute. It was Lee who contributed a three-point play just moments after a Davis 3-pointer had given Charlotte a 70-69 lead with 58.2 seconds left. And it was Lee who answered Andrien White’s 3-pointer – and provided the game-winning point – on a follow dunk after a contested miss by Baxter with six seconds remaining.
“I was thinking about getting an offensive rebound,” Lee said of his game-winning rebound and bucket. “That’s pretty much what I did. There were about 12 seconds left, we got the ball to Hakeem. I knew he was going for a layup. I just thought if he missed it, I would just be there for the put back.”
Behind Lee and Chris Cokley, the Blazers owned the paint for much of the game. UAB outscored Charlotte, 36-20, in the paint and outrebounded the 49ers, 39-27. Lee had a team-high 19 points while adding seven rebounds, four blocked shots, three assists and a steal. Cokley had 18 points, 13 rebounds, four assists and a steal.
It was a sluggish beginning for the Blazers, though, as Charlotte (13-17) led by as many as six points early in the half and enjoyed a 23-19 advantage with just under nine minutes remaining in the half. UAB countered with a 10-0 run that began with Denzell Watts’ 3-pointer and included scoring by four different Blazers.
However, the momentum didn’t continue and Charlotte scored the only bucket in the final 4:16 of the half. UAB took a 29-25 lead into halftime.
UAB controlled much of the second half, including taking a 42-33 lead after a short Tosin Mehinti jumper with 14:11 left, but still couldn’t shake the 49ers. Charlotte didn’t pull even until Davis hit a 3-pointer to tie the score at 67 with 1:50 left in the game. Cokley quickly countered with a short jumper. The teams traded blows after that but UAB found a way to survive and advance.
“A thrilling victory for our team,” Ehsan said. “A real credit to our kids. I thought we continued to fight. We got down one a couple times down at the end. We got offensive rebounds and continued to believe. The first one is always very, very difficult.”
Dirk Williams sparked the perimeter game with 16 points, including three 3-pointers, and freshman Nate Darling provided a huge spark with 11 points, including two 3-pointers, three assists and two rebounds.
“Nate Darling was huge,” Ehsan said. “Nate has been playing well, he’s been playing confident. Tonight, we don’t win that basketball game without Nate Darling.”
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