UAB wins in the final seconds against UTSA, 78-76

UAB guard Efrem ‘Butta’ Johnson (No. 24) circles the perimeter, receives a pass and knocks down the game-winner. Johnson, a 6-foot-4 sophomore from Huntsville, Ala., hit two baskets in the last minute of the game and finished with 17 points for the Blazers. – Video by The JB Replay

By Jerry Briggs
Special for The JB Replay

Guard Efrem Johnson nailed a 16-foot jumper off the side with three seconds left Tuesday night, lifting the UAB Blazers to a 78-76 victory over the UTSA Roadrunners in the inaugural American Athletic Conference game for both teams.

Jordan Ivy-Curry. UAB beat UTSA 78-76 in the men's basketball American Conference opener on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA guard Jordan Ivy-Curry produced 20 points and 10 rebounds. It was his second straight game of 20 or more. – Photo by Joe Alexander

“They made a contested two to win it,” UTSA coach Steve Henson said on the team’s radio broadcast. “Frustrating. Frustrating.”

After a timeout, the Roadrunners had 2.5 seconds left to try to pull it out. They were inbounding with 92 feet to the other end of the court. So it was a low-percentage chance to tie or win it. And, sure enough, the play was blown up when UAB guard Eric Gaines intercepted the inbounds.

“Disappointed for our guys,” Henson said later in the interview room. “We did some things very well in the game. It feels a little like the Oregon State game, where we did enough good things on both ends to win the ball game. It’s right there.”

UAB forward Yaxel Lendeborg emerged as the individual star of the night with 23 points, 15 rebounds and seven blocked shots. The performance followed his 24-point, 15-rebound effort in a 90-85 victory over UNC Asheville last Friday in Birmingham. Against UTSA, Lendeborg knocked down five of six 3-point shots.

Coming into the conference opener, the Roadrunners talked openly about how they felt “disrespected” in a preseason poll that pegged them for a last-place finish in the 14-team league. One player mused that “a lot of people think we’re not even supposed to be in this conference.”

Even with the loss, the Roadrunners might have changed some opinions with their all-out effort against a team that had been picked fourth in the same preseason poll. Playing in front of a television audience on ESPNU, UTSA pressured on defense and forced UAB into 40 percent shooting from the field and 20 turnovers.

“I think we made a statement that we’re not here to quit or lay down, and that we’re going to fight in every game,” UTSA forward Dre Fuller Jr. said.

Christian Tucker. UAB beat UTSA 78-76 in the men's basketball American Conference opener on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

UTSA guard Christian Tucker finished with 15 points on six of nine shooting from the field. – Photo by Joe Alexander

The final minute of the game was hotly contested. In fact, it looked a lot like a game headed for overtime.

First, UTSA power forward Trey Edmonds sank a short hook shot with 57 seconds left to tie the score. On the other end, Johnson nailed a pull-up jumper as UAB went back in front by two.

Not to be outdone, UTSA’s Jordan Ivy-Curry made a play to tie it again. Defending at the top of the circle, Gaines stepped in front of the UTSA playmaker try to draw a charge. But Ivy-Curry got the call, went to the line with 25 seconds left and knocked down two free throws. Once again, it was deadlocked, this time at 76-all.

On the ensuing possession, the Blazers played it perfectly. As Gaines dribbled at the top, Johnson set up in one corner. As the clock ticked down toward 10 seconds, Johnson started to circle the perimeter, headed for the other side of the floor.

He caught the pass, rose up and swished it.

On UTSA’s last play, Fuller was inbounding the ball from the baseline. Video showed UTSA guard Isaiah Wyatt streaking down one sideline toward the other end, with Christian Tucker setting a pick near halfcourt to free him. A UAB player backed up, creating contact that sent Tucker sprawling to the court. There was no call.

Dre Fuller Jr. UAB beat UTSA 78-76 in the men's basketball American Conference opener on Tuesday, Jan. 2, 2024, at the Convocation Center. - Photo by Joe Alexander

Dre Fuller Jr. enjoyed a big game with 15 points. Fuller hit three of six shots from outside the 3-point arc. – Photo by Joe Alexander

Meanwhile, the Blazers had the inbounds covered effectively, with Gaines stepping into traffic to secure the steal — and the game.


UAB 9-5, 1-0
UTSA 6-8, 0-1


The Roadrunners have lost five straight conference openers. Their last victory in a conference opener came on Jan. 3 of 2019 in San Antonio when they beat the UTEP Miners, 75-60. Henson, in his eighth year with the Roadrunners, is 3-5 in games that have kicked off conference schedules … UTSA guard Adante’ Holiman went down with an ankle injury with 4:37 remaining when he was fouled on a e-point shot attempt. Despite the injury, he made two of three free throws and then had to come out of the game … The Blazers lead the series with the Roadrunners, 12-5. UAB has won six out of seven against UTSA under fourth-year coach Andy Kennedy. UTSA has lost five straight to UAB, with its last victory coming on Feb. 27 of 2021. On that day, the Roadrunners won 96-79 in the last game at home for former star guards Jhivvan Jackson and Keaton Wallace.


UAB — Lendeborg produced 23 points, 15 rebounds, seven blocks in 40 minutes. The 6-foot-9, 230-pounder stepped outside to knock down five 3 pointers. Also, guard Efrem Johnson, 17 points and four assists. Daniel Ortiz, 11 points, with three from behind the arc. Eric Gaines had 10 points, six assists and five rebounds.

UTSA — Jordan Ivy-Curry, 20 points, 10 rebounds and four assists in nearly 29 minutes. Ivy-Curry had to come out for a few minutes down the stretch when he picked up his fourth foul. Dre Fuller, 15 points on six of 12 from the field, including three triples. Also, four rebounds, two steals and two blocks. Christian Tucker, 15 points, six of nine shooting.

Key team stats

UAB outrebounded UTSA, 49-35, including 17-13 on the offensive end. The Blazers also knocked down 55 percent from 3-point distance, namely, 11 of 20.

First half

The Roadrunners played one of their better halves of the season as they emerged with a 40-39 lead going into the break at intermission.

UTSA’s pressure defense forced 11 turnovers and held an explosive offensive team to 38 percent shooting from the field.

On the other end, guards Jordan Ivy-Curry and Christian Tucker used their speed and savvy to hurt the Blazers. Ivy-Curry had 10 points on four of seven shooting. Tucker, meanwhile, slashed inside to hit four of six from the floor. He had nine points at the half.

UAB stayed close in the game with its attack on the rim and nine of 10 free-throw shooting. UTSA wasn’t nearly as productive at the stripe, making one of four, with all of the attempts by Trey Edmonds.

Center Yaxel Lendeborg was big for the Blazers, producing 14 points and nine rebounds. Eric Gaines also emerged as a key player with 10 points.

JB’s video replay

Forward Trey Edmonds posts up and scores on a short hook with 57 seconds remaining against the UAB Blazers.

UTSA rebounds after a Jordan Ivy-Curry miss and gets the ball to Christian Tucker, whose drive to the bucket for a reverse layup lifted the Roadrunners into a 72-71 lead with 1:32 remaining.

UTSA’s Christian Tucker drives and dishes to Dre Fuller Jr. for an easy bucket.

UAB forward Yaxel Lendeborg buries a three on a pick and pop play early in the second half. Lendeborg led all scorers with 23 points. He hit five of six from 3-point range.

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