Any night a team's leading scorer comes off the bench, its either going to be a really good or really bad outing. For University of Alabama-Birmingham Thursday night at Bartow Arena, Dirk Williams production off the bench made it a good one, leading the Blazers to a 95-91 win over Marshall.
Four Blazers' players finished in double-figures while dominating the Herd on the glass 31-18 in the second half. Williams led the way with 19 points, finishing 6-7 from the field including a perfect 4-4 from long range in 22 minutes of action for the Blazers. Nick Norton had 17, Chris Cokley netted 16 and Robert Brown added 13.
Marshall's Stevie Browning turned in a career and game-high 23 points in the loss. The Herd finished with five players in double-figures, but was outscored 40-18 in bench points by the Blazers.
Marshall took an early 5-0 led on a James Kelly triple and Browning jumper, but back-to-back 3-pointers by Brown brought UAB to within one with 18:06 left in the half. Hakeem Baxter evened the contest at 9-9 with another Blazers trey, but the Herd answered with triples by Jon Elmore and Browning leading to a 21-11 lead after a 10-0 run by the visitors.
UAB responded with an 8-0 run of its own, cutting Marshall's lead to 23-21, but the Herd quickly extinguished the Blazers surge with an 8-0 run of its own capped off by Browning's second dunk of the game to give Marshall a 31-21 edge with 10:01 to go in the half.
UAB's Norton reignited the Blazers with back-to-back treys for their first lead of the game, 41-40, but a 3-point play by Elmore on the dribble-drive evened the affair at 43-43.
Sullivan provided the Blazers a 49-45 lead with less than a minute to play in the half, but two Browning free throws following by a Blazers turnover created by Browning gave Marshall a shot to tie or take the lead at the break. Ryan Taylor took the entry pass from Elmore and finished at the rim just before the buzzer sounded to send the teams to the half knotted at 49-49.
Taylor added 19 points and nine rebounds for Marshall.
The Blazers torched the nets in the first half, shooting 57.1 percent (8-14) from long range while assisting on 14 of their 18 made baskets. Marshall held a dominating lead in the paint, 20-10, while outrebounding UAB 20-15.
Kelly put the Herd back in front to open the second half but a Lee 3-point play made it 54-51 Blazers with 18:22 left.
A Taylor layup reclaimed the led for the Herd but quickly picked up his third foul with 16:51 left, forcing the forward to the bench. Searching for a spark, Browning continued to shine, sinking his sixth consecutive field goal for a 58-54 Marshall edge while holding UAB scoreless for over 2:30.
The seesaw battle continued with a 7-0 Blazers run putting the home team in front 62-59. Unlike the first half, UAB owned the glass to start the second. With nine minutes left in the contest, the Blazers had more rebounds in the half than the Herd had in the entire first 20 minutes. But the issues on the glass would not be the only trouble for the Herd, as Kelly would head to the bench with his fourth foul.
Kelly finished with his second lowest point production in conference play, netting 12 points and grabbing nine rebounds (11 vs. MTSU).
With the Herd big man on the bench, the Blazers took full advantage by grabbing a 73-66 lead behind a 7-0 run while holding Marshall scoreless for 2:10.
The Herd would hold suit, using another 10-0 run in just under two minutes to grab a three-point lead before a Tosin Mehinti tip-in cut it to 76-75 with 5:59 remaining. But it was Lee's night for some magic as an intended lob to the basket, fell through the net, giving the Blazers a 77-76 lead.
Or at least until the next media timeout when the replay monitor once again haunted the Herd in a close matchup with the Blazers.
During the timeout, the officials went to the monitor to check Lee's footing on the release of the lob, determining his toe was behind the arc. Before play resumed, the officials made the adjustment to the score, giving UAB an 81-79 edge. It was the second time an attempted lob has resulted in a 3-pointer by a Herd opponent. WKU's Ben Lawson netted the Toppers only triple in the first half in the loss to Marshall to open CUSA play.
Marshall clawed to within one three times in the final 3:30 of the game, but UAB stood tall to maintain a four point advantage, 93-89, with 11 seconds remaining. With one final shot across the bow, Marshall's Taylor finished at the rim with five seconds to go to trim the UAB lead to 93-91. Taylor's attempted miss fell into the hands of the Blazers as the Herd once again came up short to the league leader.
UAB finished with a 47 percent (34-77) clip from the field and 45.8 percent (11-24) from long range while holding Marshall to 29.4 percent (10-34). The Blazers dominated the glass, collecting 46 boards to Marshall's 38.
C.J. Burks added 12 points for the Herd off the bench.
Marshall travels to Middle Tennessee State Saturday night for a battle for one of the top four spots in the CUSA Championship in Birmingham beginning in two weeks.