By Kyle Parmley
BIRMINGHAM – A William Lee blocked shot turned into a massive put back dunk from Chris Cokley on the other end with just under a minute to play in the game.
The sequence sealed the game for UAB, as they defeated a pesky Jacksonville State team, 61-55, on Sunday afternoon inside Bartow Arena.
Lee emphatically swatted Jacksonville State’s JaQuail Townser at the rim after Townser pulled down an offensive rebound from a missed shot. The ball bounded out to Robert Brown, who sprinted down the court on the fast break. After a missed layup attempt, Cokley flew in from behind the play for the crowd-arousing slam.
The dunk gave UAB (3-1) a four-point lead with 55 seconds to play, and would be the last field goal scored in the game by either team.
The Blazers found themselves in a tight ball game the entire way with Jacksonville State (2-3). UAB will take the win, but head coach Jerod Haase wants more from his team in the future, and thinks that improvement is well within reach.
“Obviously at the end of the day, we want to make sure that we win games, but I tend to look at these things big picture,” Haase said. “Big picture, it was great for us to be in a situation like this, to learn from a late game situation.”
“We knew coming into this game that it was going to be a dogfight,” Cokley said.
Cokley was phenomenal off the bench once again for the Blazers, as he scored 20-plus points for the second time in four games. He finished the night a rebound shy of a double-double, with 23 points and nine rebounds.
When asked how his team won the game late, Haase said, “We got the ball to Chris Cokley, and he was able to produce in the paint again.”
He battled foul trouble for the second consecutive game, but found a way to be productive this time after struggling in the Troy game. In 25 minutes, Cokley was extremely efficient, making eight of his 12 shots and connecting on all seven free throws he attempted.
Hakeem Baxter was the only other Blazer in double digits, with 12 points. Malcolm Drumwright (14 points), Jeremy Watson (14 points), and Townser (13 points) were the top scorers for Jacksonville State.
The blocked shot from Lee was the second in a string of four consecutive defensive stops to win the game. Three straight is what UAB calls a ‘turkey.’
“It is something we talk about. In the first half, we got four turkeys, which is three defensive stops in a row. It’s something we talk about as a team in practice and we try to carry it over to the games. When you get three stops in a row, that’s when you get mini runs and make things happen,” Haase said.
The Gamecocks held true to their game plan coming in, as they drained much of the 30-second shot clock on nearly every possession.
“We didn’t adjust enough to quick enough throughout the game,” Haase said “Our (defensive) pressure was not impactful with the game at all. They were able to use the shot clock to limit the number of possessions and keep the game close.”
Jacksonville State led 28-25 at the halftime break, as UAB was held without a field goal in the final 7:20 of the half.
“Offensively, especially in the first half, I thought we were very inefficient. We were taking poor shots, making bad decisions, and not creating,” Haase said.
Haase’s message at the half was simple.
“Just to play with better edge,” Cokley said.
UAB’s offense has not clicked on all cylinders yet this season, and only hit 1-of-12 shots from 3-point range in the game. But what has been displayed on the court in the season’s first four games is not indicative of how the Blazers have looked in practice.
“I believe wholeheartedly that it’s going to come,” Haase said when asked about the offense’s efficiency. “The guys are getting more and more confident in what we’re doing. I know it didn’t look like it tonight, but in practice there are times that we’re really good. So we need to figure out how to carry that over to the games.”
Lee is one of those players that has yet to hit his stride on the offensive end, but that has not stopped him from “playing harder everyday.” He scored just five points, but pulled down six rebounds and blocked four shots.
“He took another step forward, but he’s not playing to his full capabilities,” Haase said. “Defensively, he’s doing things that are trending upward.”
UAB had a decided edge on the glass in the game, outrebounding Jacksonville State 40-28. Cokley pulled down his share, and felt like all of the Blazers’ bigs had a size advantage in the game.
The competition stiffens next weekend, as the Blazers will take to Destin, Fla., to take part in the Emerald Coast Classic. Illinois awaits them on Friday at 8:30 p.m. The possible opponents for Saturday’s game are Virginia Tech and Iowa State, the team UAB knocked off in the NCAA Tournament in March. Both games will be televised by CBS Sports Network.