DAYTON, Ohio — Jerai Grant scored a career-best 22 points and fast-starting Clemson built a double-figure lead and never backed off in beating Alabama-Birmingham 70-52 on Tuesday night in an NCAA Tournament "First Four" game.
In a matchup of No. 12 seeds, part of the expanded tournament's new look, the Tigers went on a 21-2 run in the first half and never let the big lead slip away, as they had in several recent games.
Clemson (22-11) hurried out after the game to catch a flight to a second-round game against East No. 5 seed West Virginia (20-11) on Thursday afternoon at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa.
Milton Jennings added 11 points and Tanner Smith and Devin Booker each had 10 for Clemson, picked to finish seventh in the ACC.
Jamarr Sanders had 19 and Dexter Fields 12 for UAB (22-10), regular-season champions of Conference USA.
Ahead 39-27 at the break, Clemson never let the Blazers draw closer than eight points in the second half.
UAB's hopes wilted when, already trailing 61-42, it lost point guard Aaron Johnson.
Johnson, leading the nation in assists at 7.7 per game, was injured while trying to prevent an easy layup by Grant. After lying on the floor for several minutes, he left the court on crutches with a right leg injury.
This is the first year that the NCAA Tournament has had 68 teams, necessitating four first-round games to get the field cut to 64.
UNC-ASHEVILLE 81, UALR 77, OT: Matt Dickey and UNC-Asheville were quite an opening act.
Dickey led a late run that brought overtime, and J.P. Primm hit five free throws and had a decisive steal in the closing seconds, sending UNC-Asheville past Arkansas-Little Rock in a dramatic "First Four" opener.
There wasn't time for a curtain call. The Bulldogs (20-13) quickly headed to the airport for a charter flight to Washington, where they'll play Pittsburgh — the Southeast's top seed — on Thursday. The Bulldogs had never flown a charter before this week, and joked they felt "presidential" on the trip to Dayton.
"We're going to feel presidential again, and we're going to D.C.," Primm said. "So it's going to feel even better."
Dickey, UNC-Asheville's best player, scored 14 of the Bulldogs' last 18 points in regulation, including a 3-pointer with 10.5 seconds to go to tie it. The Bulldogs led for only 51 seconds in regulation,
Dickey, the Big South tournament's MVP, took only two shots in the first half. He and Primm wound up with 22 points apiece.
"I came in at halftime and they kept telling me to keep being aggressive, my shots will start falling," Dickey said.
Alex Garcia-Mendoza matched his career high with 21 points for Arkansas-Little Rock (19-17). Solomon Bozeman, a USF transfer and the Sun Belt's player of the year, scored 18 but fouled out with 55 seconds to go in regulation.