BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - Jamarr Sanders scored 15 points and fellow senior Aaron Johnson had 11 points and nine assists, with no turnovers, to lead Alabama-Birmingham to a 66-48 victory over East Carolina on Saturday night, giving the Blazers the Conference USA regular-season championship.
It is the first outright conference championship for the Blazers (22-7, 12-4) in 21 years, since the 1989-90 team won the Sun Belt Conference. UAB shared the Conference USA title in 2004 with four other teams.
The victory gives the Blazers seven wins in the past eight games and bolsters their chances of making the NCAA tournament, though they are hurt by having no nonconference victories over a team in the top 50 of the RPI.
The Pirates (16-14, 8-8) made the game's opening basket, then went scoreless for nearly 7 minutes. That enabled the Blazers to build a 10-2 lead and they never trailed again.
Leading 14-7 midway through the half, UAB went on a 17-5 run to take a 31-12 halftime lead. Ovie Soko scored nine points on 4-of-4 shooting and grabbed six rebounds in the first half, on his way to a double-double (10 points and 10 rebounds).
The Pirates were 5 for 27 from the field in the half and managed only one point over the final five minutes. Darrius Morrow scored eight points on 4-of-10 shooting, while the rest of the team was 1 of 17 from the field.
East Carolina closed the gap to 38-25 early in the second half, before a 3-pointer by Dexter Fields kicked off a 12-5 run that gave the Blazers a 20-point lead at 50-30.
Cameron Moore came off the bench to score 13 points and grab eight rebounds for the Blazers.
Morrow and Corvonn Gaines each scored 13 points for the Pirates. Jontae Sherrod added 11 points and eight rebounds.
The Blazers closed the regular season by winning 11 of their final 14 games, with the three losses coming by a combined total of 11 points.
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