Jordan Swing was one of six seniors honored on Thursday night.
March 6, 2014
By: Steve Irvine, UABSports.com
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. --- A night to celebrate the UAB men’s basketball seniors unfortunately turned into a celebration for Middle Tennessee at Bartow Arena. The Blue Raiders spoiled the Blazers’ Senior Night by overcoming a six-point deficit late in the game and claiming a 55-53 Conference USA victory with the final points provided by point guard Tweety Knight on a contested layup with 4.1 seconds remaining.
UAB is the No. 8 seed in the 2014 Conference USA Tournament in El Paso, Texas and will play the No. 9 seed Charlotte at 8:30 p.m. MT/9:30 p.m. CT on Wednesday, March 12.
“I know we have a locker room full of guys who are hurting right now, hurting for each other,” said UAB head coach Jerod Haase. “It was a tough one. All losses hurt, this one had a little something extra that unfortunately I’ll remember for a long time.”
UAB (18-12 overall, 7-9 C-USA) had a chance to tie the game after Knight’s layup. Point guard Chad Frazier grabbed the inbound pass on the run. The junior guard drove the length of the court and had a shot in the paint but failed to convert. When the buzzer sounded, Middle Tennesssee’s players celebrated winning a share of the C-USA regular season title.
Haase said he considered calling a timeout but chose not to when he saw Frazier, who had a team-high 16 points, catch the pass with his momentum going forward.
The Blazers had a chance to keep the game from coming down to the final possession. Fahro Alihodzic’s bucket with 2:57 left gave the Blazers a 51-46 lead and the Blazers led by six with 1:58 remaining. But poor free throw shooting down the stretch and two big 3-pointers by Middle Tennessee (23-8, 13-3) allowed the Blue Raiders to come back. UAB was 9-of-18 from the line overall and 3-of-6 in the final 4:55, including the front end of a 1-and-1 situation.
“I think it’s just focus,” said UAB senior Rod Rucker, who had 15 points and eight rebounds in his final game at Bartow Arena. “Being at the line, I don’t think we’re relaxed enough. Me, myself, I think I’m focused but I think I’m rushing my shot. I’m not just letting it come. It’ll be something I work on before the tournament.”
The 3-pointers for the Blue Raiders came from Kerry Hammonds with 1:51 remaining and Neiko Hunter with 55 seconds on the clock. Hunter’s 3-pointer tied the game at 53-53.
“Certainly give Middle Tennessee a lot of credit,” Haase said. “They made two 3-point shots that were difficult shots. They made plays when they had to, we missed some plays down the stretch when we had. I do give credit to them but it is extremely difficult, especially when you’re talking about the situation.”
The Blazers, who were without injured starter C.J. Washington, played well on defense for the most part but had a difficult time with 6-foot-8, 236-pound senior Shawn Jones. The physical forward had 16 points and 18 rebounds and was 8-of-12 from the field.
“He’s a physical presence,” Haase said. “He’s big enough and strong enough and explosive enough that if you give him low post position, he’s going to get every rebound and finish every play. He certainly did that in the first half and throughout the game as well.”
UAB will regroup and get ready for next week’s C-USA Tournament in El Paso. Haase said his team is confident, even after the disappointing end to the regular season.
“I believe, and I think our team believes, that we’re good enough to beat anybody in this league,” Haase said. “Obviously, we’ve been competitive and we feel like we’re in the games with teams at the top of the league. We had some games against the middle and the bottom of the league that would like to have back, but I don’t think we’re going to go into a game out in El Paso thinking we don’t have a chance. I think we’re going to feel very confident, very excited with a single goal of playing great in each and every game we play.”