The University of Alabama in Huntsville advanced to the Gulf South Conference semi-finals on Saturday against West Alabama.
These two met twice during the regular season and both times it was the Tigers who came out on top, but before the game Head Coach Lennie Acuff said this team is bought in to this time of year which has helped them get this far.
“I think we’re playing with a lot of confidence but I think our confidence is coming from practicing well. We have good chemistry. We have a lot of guys who are bought in. It’s important. They work hard. We’ve got guys working right now out there," Coach Acuff said.
The Chargers came out ready to play against West Alabama, defeating the Tigers 82-69. For the fourth time in five years, UAH advances to the GSC Championship game.
"That's hard to do in this league, and this is going to be our fourth different opponent, which I think says something about our consistency," Coach Acuff said after the Chargers win on Saturday.
The trio of sophomores that have led this team all season once again paced the team with JJ Kaplan going off for 31 points, and both Sam Orf and Seth Swalve scored 19.
The Chargers fell behind early, with the Tigers going up 7-2 at the 17:41 mark in the first half, but Grissom Grad JJ Kaplan gets one of his three 3-pointers of the day. Right after, Redshirt Junior Dalton Barlkey hits a long-range bucket giving UAH the 8-7 lead.
After the Tigers briefly regained the lead, UAH then went on an 11-2 run to go ahead by eight at 19-11 with 11:21 remaining in the half, and the lead would grow to as many as nine in the period thanks in part to Kaplan going 7-for-9 from the floor on his way to scoring 18 first half points.
West Alabama would cut the deficit to just three points towards the end of the first half, but a defensive rebound by Max Shulman with six seconds left gave the Chargers the last possession of the half, allowing Sam Orf to hit a buzzer-beating triple to put UAH ahead 37-31 at the break.
The Chargers increased their lead to 17 when Bob Jones alum Tanner Finley hit one from beyond the arc at the 10:43 mark to give the Chargers a 60-43 lead, but the Tigers would eventually pull back within eight at 70-62 with just 3:27 remaining in the contest.
UAH would then proceed to seal the game, however, by going 10-for-10 from the free throw line in the closing minutes while holding West Alabama to just seven more points.
For the contest, UAH shot 54.2 percent including an 11-for-19 showing from beyond the arc, and the team held West Alabama to a shooting mark of just 41.9 percent.
The Chargers also won the rebounding battle, grabbing 32 to UWA's 28 to improve to 19-0 on the season when outrebounding the opponent, and UAH was led on the glass by Kaplan who had eight rebounds.
Malik Cook-Stroupe led the Chargers with four assists.
UAH has been doing so well this year thanks to veteran players leading the team.
"We really do have such a young team, but when you have leaders like Tanner and Elijah, it really doesn't matter. I mean they've lead us since the beginning and we're still going up," Redshirt Sophomore JJ Kaplan said.
Senior Tanner Finley says this year's team is a unique group of guys, but they all have one focus.
"All five years I've been here we've have a different group but a special group," Finley said. "I think this one has really come together and they really just buy in and there's only one goal. There's no self agenda's. There's no hey I gotta go and get mine, you know, it's win. That's the one goal."
The Chargers face Delta State on Sunday for the GSC Championship. The Statesmen barely beat top ranked Valdosta State on Saturday, 70-69.