FRISCO, TX — Jelly Walker put on a show as UAB beat North Texas on the strength of his 32 points. FAU escaped a frantic comeback attempt from Middle Tennessee that included a four-point play late and a final tying three attempt that went just wide left. It was a great afternoon of basketball. Neutral fans were treated to at least one nervy game while sitting through a nail-biter in the other.
FAU 68 MTSU 65
FAU held off a rally late by Middle that included a Buford four-point play that could have tied things late. Instead the missed free throw caromed off an FAU player setting up a final seconds potential game-winner. Deandre Dishman had two attempts at the rim but the FAU defense kept him from succeeding. After a pair of free throws, the Blue Raiders tried a full-court tip-it-to-a-shooter play that got Weston a look from the wing. His shot was just left and FAU escaped. The magic continues.
The Blue Raiders made a comeback from down 16 and it was their tournament experience with big shots and big moments that seemingly carried them through some hairy moments. FAU has had an incredible season and likely already locked up an NCAA Tournament berth with this win but will continue on to the championship game.
UAB 76 UNT 69
The Blazers came out with a purpose, and it showed. NT’s Grant McCasland said that UAB “out rebounded, out-attacked us early, they were physical” and that led to a 22-2 lead at the 10 minute mark. North Texas battled back to make it a seven point game by half, and a four-point game early in the second half. UAB’s Jelly Walker answered the call and hit a three of his own immediately after. “He was able to score when they needed him”. Walker finished with 32 points as UAB was not constrained by the nation’s best scoring defense. Rubin Jones, who one FAU staffer told me “was our pick for defensive player of the year” gave just about the best effort possible against him. He chased him over screens, contested shots, and battled. Walker still hit shots in his face. “Can’t guard it better than that.”
North Texas got within 2 points in the final minute thanks to some pressure, but couldn’t find the clutch three from Kai Huntsberry, Rubin Jones, and Tylor Perry had fouled out. Speaking of the player of the year, Perry did not play poorly but he said he “has to find ways to impact the game more, even when not scoring”. UAB took the ball out of his hands by trapping and pressing, but McCasland said “Perry did a great job of moving the ball and making good decisions”. Perry said “I don’t have a problem passing the ball. I have great teammates and I know they will make good decisions” He finished with 17 points. He fouled out after cutting the lead to 5 with a three, but fouled to force a free throw from UAB in the final seconds.
The Championship Matchup
FAU’s anyone-can-score offense vs UAB’s give-it-to-Jelly attack. These teams split in the regular season and the Blazers are the defending champions, and pre-season favorites. FAU has been a great story and the rooting favorite of all bubble squads. UAB’s Walker is everyone’s favorite gunner and we should be in line for a great game. The winner gets the last CUSA Championship before leaving to the AAC next season.