BIRMINGHAM, ALA. – Entering Tuesday night, UAB had not lost to a non-conference opponent inside Barstow Arena for five years, a streak of 36 consecutive wins.
It looked like that streak was in jeopardy with the Virginia Commonwealth University men's basketball team holding a nine-point lead with less than two minutes remaining. Unfortunately that's when the Blazers showed why they are so tough at home with a furious rally to send the Black & Gold home with a 68-65 road defeat.
"For 35 minutes, I thought we played outstanding basketball, showing a lot of urgency and focus on both ends of the court," Head Coach Shaka Smart said. "Once again, we just lost our composure and had multiple unforced errors that cost us the game."
Junior Bradford Burgess was red-hot all night, shooting 10-of-14 from the field for a season-high 26 points to go along with six rebounds and two steals. Senior Jamie Skeen tallied his second-straight double-double with 14 points and 10 rebounds on the evening.
"Both Brad and Jamie showed exactly why we know we can lean on them all year long," Smart said. "But let's be honest, no one in this locker room cares about that if we take a loss."
For the second consecutive game, VCU jumped out to an early double-digit lead behind 26 combined first-half points from Burgess, Skeen and senior Ed Nixon.
The Rams held a 12-point cushion at halftime, but it seemed like the Blazers had woken up after trimming the lead to eight. However, a pair 3-pointers from senior Brandon Rozzell and baskets from Skeen and Burgess helped the Black & Gold grab its largest lead of the game at 53-34 with 13:15 to play.
At that point, UAB had knocked down just one 3-pointer. Over the next 13 minutes, the Blazers, thanks to Dexter Fields and Jamarr Sanders, connected on seven shots from beyond the arc to get within nine with just under five minutes remaining.
It seemed as if VCU might hold off the rally as neither team scored over a three-minute span, but six turnovers over the last three minutes allowed UAB to make their run and claim an improbable victory heading into Christmas break.
"We have a lot to look at and to be honest, it's more mental than anything else," Smart said. "Physically we know the ability we have, but we continue to lose our sense of urgency at critical times and that cannot happen. We need better leadership and that starts at the top with me."
Sanders and Fields were VCU's nemesis on the night, combining for 47 points including seven three-pointers, 33 in the second half.
Skeen was tremendous on the defensive end as well, holding All-Conference candidate Cameron Moore to just four points on 1-of-5 shooting.
The Black & Gold was outstanding on the glass, outrebounding UAB 33-27, but 22 turnovers on the night was ultimately the downfall for the Rams.
VCU will take a few days off for the Christmas holiday before returning to action on Wednesday, Dec. 29 when they take on Wofford in the first round of the Richmond Marriott Holiday on the Hardwood Classic.