Former Franklin-Simpson Wildcat and UAB Blazers’ sophomore Tavin Lovan and freshman Jalen Benjamin each scored a team high of 16 points to lead the Blazers to a 72-62 victory over the Hilltoppers.
UAB improves to 1-2 in Conference USA, 10-6 overall as the Western Kentucky falls to 9-6 overall and 2-1 in conference play.
In 36 minutes, Lovan made seven of his 10 shots from the floor along with both of his free throws, four rebounds and a steal that led to UAB getting their first win in conference play.
“It was a great win for our guys. We didn’t play a perfect game, but we played connected and with a lot of energy,” Blazers head coach Robert Ehsan said. “Tavin (Lovan) played a great game for us. He made arguably the most electric play of the season on his dunk, then he got a layup after that. Those were two momentum plays.”
With Western Kentucky up 13-8 in the first half, UAB scored six points in 27 seconds and with Lovan’s jump shot, UAB led 16-13 with 10:47 left. The Blazers led the rest of the way as freshman Jordan Brinson’s jumper sent the game into halftime with UAB ahead 31-25.
Lovan began the 2nd half with a ferocious slam-dunk along with Benjamin 3-pointer and back-to-back layups from Benjamin and junior Makhtar Gueye, the Blazers had a 13-point lead, 40-27 with 16:37 to go. The Hilltoppers cut their deficit over the next eight minutes down to one point 55-54 with 5:26 remaining that was highlighted by a powerful slam-dunk by junior Josh Anderson.
On the ensuing possession, Lovan was fouled and Hilltoppers’ freshman Jordan Rawls was assessed a technical foul, resulting in four straight made free throws for the Blazers and a five-point lead. Hilltoppers’ junior Taveion Hollingsworth’s basket made it a one-possession game after but UAB responded with a 9-0 run. Lovan’s second dunk of the game made it a three possession game and his layup put UAB ahead 66-57 with 2:03 left that put the game out of reach for the Hilltoppers with the Blazers pulling away for the 72-62 victory.
“We were battling our butts off,” Hilltoppers head coach Rick Stansbury said. “It wasn’t easy to get points in the paint. Those guys are big, they’re strong – they’re a really good defensive team. It wasn’t easy to drive it into the paint, either, so we didn’t get to the free-throw line as much. I’m proud of the way our guys battled to give ourselves an opportunity, but you have to eliminate those points that hurt our team.”
Hollingsworth led the Hilltoppers with 19 points, while Carson Williams adding 12 points and eight rebounds. Redshirt senior Jared Savage scored 11 points with Josh Anderson and Jordan Rawls each scored 10 points. Savage grabbed nine rebounds, and Rawls passed out five assists in a full 40 minutes in his first career start.
Makhtar Gueye scored a season-high 11 points along with seven rebounds and junior Tyreek Scott-Grayson also added seven rebounds for the Blazers.
As a team, UAB shot 51 percent from the floor, including tying a season-high with 29 made field goals. The Blazers dominated the boards as they outrebounded the Hilltoppers 41-29 and outscored them in the paint 42-16. They turned eight Western Kentucky turnovers into 11 points.