Millsap, Drake bail out No. 25 UAB in 65-55 win
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP)—UAB couldn’t buy a basket, so the Blazers started loading up on the freebies.
The No. 25 Blazers made 13 straight free throws after their 16-point lead vanished during a lengthy offensive funk to help them salvage a 65-55 victory over Tulsa on Tuesday night.
Elijah Millsap had 19 points and 12 rebounds and led the offensive resurgence with a pair of old-fashioned three-point plays. As a result, the Blazers (18-2, 6-0 Conference USA) blew a 16-point halftime cushion but rebounded from going 12 minutes without a basket in time to survive a matchup of the only two remaining teams without a conference loss.
The late-game tension was nothing for a team that had won its previous three by a total of four points.
“We know we can win games that are real tight,” Millsap said. “We know we can come back. We feel comfortable. We never get rattled.”
Millsap broke that frigid spell with a basket and free throw with 6:16 left to halt a 19-2 run that had given the Golden Hurricane (16-4, 5-1) a 46-44 lead.
“They put fear in everybody’s heart with that stretch in the second half,” UAB coach Mike Davis said.
Then Millsap added a one-handed fastbreak dunk off a bounce pass from Aaron Johnson a minute later and was fouled then, too. That three-point play gave the Blazers the lead for good.
“A.J. saw me and I was ready to get us going,” Millsap said. “That really helped us get it going in the second half. We pushed the lead back up after that.”
And Tulsa coach Doug Wojcik’s team couldn’t answer.
“From that point, the crowd was great, very loud,” Wojcik said. “We lost our composure a little bit. But I’m really proud of the way we fought back. They made the free throws down the stretch and beat us.”
George Drake hit eight straight free throws in the final 5:39 and finished with 17 points. The Blazers made their first 16 attempts from the foul line after halftime to hold on when the jump shots stopped falling.
Jamarr Sanders added 12 points for the Blazers, who went 19 of 20 from the line in the second half. Watching UAB expand its lead from the line was a “helpless” feeling, Wojcik said.
They shot 55 percent to take a 38-22 halftime lead, but made just 4 of 19 attempts after that (21 percent).
Jerome Jordan led Tulsa with 20 points and eight rebounds. Ben Uzoh added 17 points and made all three of the Golden Hurricane’s 3-pointers. No. 2 scorer Justin Hurtt missed all seven field goal attempts and finished with two points, nearly 13 below his season average.
Tulsa shot 38 percent and had 17 turnovers, 14 in the first half.
“They were pretty much trapping the ballhandlers and stopping us from getting into our normal transition game,” Jordan said. “That made it a little ugly for us on offense.”
After briefly taking the lead, the Golden Hurricane didn’t manage another basket until UAB had already put the game out of reach with a 16-4 run.
The Blazers have won seven straight games for the best start in school history. They re-entered the Top 25 this week for the second time this season, having quickly lost to Virginia after that first appearance. And now they’re alone atop C-USA.
“It’s important to be on top at any time,” Davis said. “But it’s more important to win home games. I told the guys before the game we’re not playing for first place, we’re playing to protect home court.”
Tulsa was off to its best start since going 29-3 on its way to a run to the round of eight in the NCAA tournament in the 1999-2000 season.