BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP)—Jeremy Hunt’s hot shooting and a smothering defensive effort gave No. 8 Memphis a comfortable victory.
Hunt scored a career-high 30 points, including 25 and some long 3-pointers before halftime, and the Tigers limited UAB to 31 percent shooting in a 70-56 victory Thursday night.
It made for a no-sweat win even when nobody else was producing many points.
“If Jeremy Hunt didn’t go crazy, this is a two-point game,” Memphis coach John Calipari said. “But we have guys who can do that for us.
“Jeremy had 25 points at halftime and he hit three shots at the end of the shot clock when we had nothing going.”
The Tigers (20-3, 10-0 Conference USA) blew the game open by going on a 24-5 run starting late in the first half for their 12th consecutive victory.
Hunt made six 3-pointers before the half, bettering his previous scoring high by a point in 15 minutes action. He didn’t score again until managing a short jumper and a seventh 3 over the final 3 minutes.
But Memphis’ defense never let UAB (11-12, 3-6) muster much of a scoring spurt.
The Blazers committed 20 turnovers, many of them careless mistakes. They also made just 2-of-15 3-pointers and 16-of-52 shots.
“We gave a great effort,” UAB coach Mike Davis said. “We turned the ball over too much and missed too many close shots, but our guys fought like crazy.
“We did a better job of getting it inside tonight but we must have missed at least six shots from point-blank range. If we just hit three of those, it’s a totally different game.”
Hunt was the only Memphis player to do much scoring in the dominant defensive effort. Top scorer Chris Douglas-Roberts and Doneal Mack scored 10 points apiece and Robert Dozier had 13 rebounds, four blocks and three steals along with six points before fouling out.
“Jeremy Hunt was hitting from everywhere, but when we executed our defense they had trouble scoring,” Davis said.
The Blazers dominated the boards, 50-37, but forced only eight turnovers.
Paul Delaney led UAB with 18 points, but made just 3-of-13 shots. He was 12-of-14 from the free throw line.
The Blazers did have three players record double-doubles. Frank Holmes had 14 points and 10 rebounds. Lawrence Kinnard had 10 points and 12 boards and Wen Mukubu had 12 points and 10 rebounds.
The Tigers built a 37-25 halftime lead with Hunt taking care of most of the scoring. He made 6-of-9 3-pointers in the half while the rest of the team was 0-for-6.
“I was just feeling it,” Hunt said. “It was unbelievable. I just felt like a lot of my teammates weren’t scoring in the first half, so I tried to carry the team as much as I could.
“I knew they’d pick it up in the second half.”
The Blazers climbed back to within 25-22 on Mukubu’s drive with 3:15 left before Hunt widened the lead. He quickly drilled a 3-pointer, hit a free throw a few seconds later and added two more 3s in the final 38 seconds, including a buzzer-beater from the top of the key before falling on his back.
“That shot at the end of the first half, you could call that luck,” Hunt admitted.
But it still deflated the Blazers going into the locker room.
“We let Hunt get in a rhythm,” Mukubu said. “He got comfortable and it became hard to stop him. The shot Hunt hit right before halftime was a big one. You never want to give up a big shot like that that gives them momentum.”
The Blazers had just four baskets and 10 turnovers in the first 15 minutes but were still close until Hunt’s fast finish.
UAB had won the last two meetings with Memphis at Bartow Arena.
“This has been a tough place for us to play,” Calipari said. “UAB played hard, but I thought we matched their intensity.”
The game’s start was delayed about 30 minutes when one of the baskets had to be repaired after a Memphis player dunked during pre-game warmups.