Published March 14, 2015
Memphis, TN – Birmingham, AL (SportsNetwork.com) - Robert Brown's 22 points helped UAB punch its NCAA Tournament ticket with a 73-60 win over Middle Tennessee in the championship game of the Conference USA Tournament.
The fourth-seeded Blazers showed little fatigue from their overtime triumph over regular-season champion Louisiana Tech in Friday's semifinals, shooting 51.9 percent from the field and dominating the Blue Raiders on the boards to capture the program's first-ever C-USA tourney crown.
William Lee added 13 points for UAB (19-15), which will be going dancing for the first time since 2011.
Sixth-seeded Middle Tennessee State (19-16) knocked off two of the league's top three teams in UTEP and Old Dominion to reach Saturday's final, but proved to be no match for the hot-shooting Blazers on UAB's home court.
"We shot the ball well, but the biggest thing is I thought we defended physically," UAB head coach Jerod Haase said. "Our guys were emotionally into it. We won the rebounding battle. We did have the benefit of not playing four days in a row. We were able to wear down Middle (Tennessee) a little bit as the game wore on. They had a fantastic run and we were fortunate to beat a good team."
Jaqawn Raymond paced the Blue Raiders with 12 points and Perrin Buford finished with 11 in the loss. Reggie Upshaw, MTSU's leading scorer on the season, managed just two points while battling foul trouble much of the game.
After an evenly played opening 10 minutes, the Blazers seized control out of the game's second media timeout. UAB scored on five consecutive possessions while putting forth an 11-0 run, capped by a pair of Brown free throws after the Blazers' Tosin Mehinti rejected Marcus Tarrance on the other end, to build a 27-16 lead with 5:39 to go in the half.
"We lost our identity for about six or seven minutes in the first half," Blue Raiders head coach Kermit Davis said. "We ran no offense, shot it quick, the ball didn't move and they just pounded us on the glass. That turned the game."
Middle Tennessee did counter with an 8-2 spurt, bookended by treys from Raymond and Darnell Harris, but UAB quickly gained the momentum back. The Blazers scored the next seven points en route to entering the break owning a 37-26 advantage.
The Blue Raiders were able to cut a 13-point deficit down to eight just over six minutes into the second half. They got no closer, however, as a pair of Brown triples around a Chris Cokley jumper had UAB up comfortably at 55-39 with 11:25 to play.
Middle Tennessee never threatened from there, with the Blazers maintaining separation by hitting 63.6 percent of their field goal tries in the second half. Their lead got as high as 22 points after Hakeem Baxter drained a triple with 5:57 remaining to make the score 69-47.
UAB had lost in two previous C-USA Tournament finals, falling to Louisville in 2003 and Memphis in 2006 ... Middle Tennessee, which reached the 2013 First Four, was appearing in its first tournament championship since being ousted by Western Kentucky in the 2008 Sun Belt title game. The Blue Raiders' last conference tournament title came in the 1989 Ohio Valley ... UAB is now 12-0 against fellow C-USA members on its home floor of Legacy Arena this season ... The Blazers outrebounded MTSU by a 33-22 margin and ended 9-of-19 from 3-point range ... The Blazers swept MTSU during the regular season, including a 100-95 triple-overtime thriller in Birmingham on Feb. 28.