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Flames’ freshmen close out Loyola

KREPS, BOYD COME THROUGH IN CLUTCH

March 8, 2008

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Freshman guard Robert Kreps scored 14 points, including a critical three-pointer in the second half, to help the Flames defeat Loyola.

INDIANAPOLIS—Robert Kreps and Tori Boyd dispelled the notion that upperclassmen are the ones that help a team succeed at tournament time.

The freshman duo teamed up to lift UIC into the Horizon League semifinals as Kreps hit a key three-pointer in the second half and Boyd stuck some daggers from the foul line as the Flames eliminated Loyola 60-49 at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Friday night.

The No. 4 seed Flames (18-14) advance to play top-seeded Butler (27-3) in Saturday’s second semifinal.

The freshmen lifted UIC out a sluggish rut, which saw the Flames shoot just 33 percent from the field in the first half and trail 21-19 at the break.

“Once our young guys got in and brought that energy, I thought it was contagious,” UIC coach Jimmy Collins said. “The rest of the guys picked up and ran off that energy.”

Kreps finished with 14 points on 4-for-10 shooting and hit a three-pointer just when the eighth-seeded Ramblers (12-19) had designs of an upset.

Loyola’s Ross Forman drained a three-pointer to pull the Ramblers within 35-33 with 7:30 remaining, but on the Flames’ next possession, Kreps stepped up and answered with a trey of his own.

“Josh [Mayo] got the ball and as he was running down the court, [Loyola] had a miscommunication,” Kreps said. “He saw me, and I just let it fly and it went in.”

UIC took a 38-33 lead at the point and never led by less than four points the rest of the game.

“Coach [Collins] got on me in practice, telling me I needed to be more aggressive,” Kreps said. “So I came out and just tried to be aggressive and play within myself.”

“Robo’s a guy that knows how to play,” Collins added. “Sometimes he gives the torch to other guys. Tonight it was good to see him take charge.”

Boyd scored eight points on 8-for-8 from the free-throw line, including six in the final 1:39 of the game to hammer the nails in the Ramblers’ coffin.

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Freshman Tori Boyd drilled eight free throws in the second half to ice UIC’s victory.

Collins saluted Boyd’s solid all-around play: “Tori did a fantastic job. He was 8-for-8 from the line and he grabbed some big rebounds for us right down the stretch and he did a good defensively.”

Mayo led the Flames with 17 points, including 12 in the second half after an opening period filled with foul trouble. The junior guard picked up two fouls before the game was four minutes old and played just eight minutes before halftime.

“It was really frustrating for me,” Mayo said. “The [rest of the] team kept us in it. Robert and Tori really stepped up for us.”

Loyola took advantage of Mayo’s prolonged absence in the first half, but perhaps, not enough.

“Offensively we just couldn’t get the ball in the basket,” Loyola coach Jim Whitesell said. “We also didn’t help ourselves at the free-throw line (7-for-16). We also had some untimely turnovers. You’ve got to give UIC a lot of credit. In a game like this, sometimes you have to grind it out. Obviously we weren’t able to do that.”

Even so, the Ramblers scored the first two baskets of the second half to take a 25-19 lead, but the Flames finally started to hit as Spencer Stewart hit a layup, followed by a VanderMeer layup.

Loyola’s J.R. Blount, who was held to just seven points, hit a baseline floater for a 27-23 lead with 16:48 to play, but the Ramblers went stone cold. Loyola didn’t make another field goal for over nine minutes and the Flames took over.

Kreps hit a layup to give UIC a 29-28 edge with 11:36 remaining. After a free throw by Andy Polka, Mayo scored on a layup as the Flames took the lead for good with 9:53 to play.

The Flames closed strong, hitting all 20 of their free throw attempts in the second half.

“The game of basketball goes like that sometimes,” Collins said. “Sometimes you can throw a can in the ocean and sometimes you can’t miss.”

Despite shooting just 36 percent for the game and just getting six assists, the Flames did enough of the little things to earn the victory. UIC outrebounded Loyola 36-20, including 16-8 on the offensive end.

“I don’t think either team shot it great,” Whitesell said. “Sometimes we have to get the extras like offensive rebounds. That’s what UIC did.”

“It was pretty according to some of the bystanders I talked to after the game, but it was a win,” Collins said. “I thought we came out and didn’t play with the energy that we talked about playing with.”

UP NEXT: The Flames return to the Hinkle Fieldhouse court to take on the top-seeded Butler Bulldogs on Saturday night. The game will start at approximately 6 p.m.

UIC was swept by the No. 14 Bulldogs during the regular season, falling 72-57 at Hinkle on Jan. 26 and losing a close 51-46 decision at the Pavilion on Feb. 20.

With Butler well rested since its last game against Detroit on March 1, Collins hopes to rely on a deep rotation on Saturday.

“Our depth is going to be important. It means a lot more against Butler. Guys have to get in and give their all.”

Point guard Mike Green, who had arguably his worst game of the season against the Flames in February, has bounced back nicely, averaging 12.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 7.0 assists in Butler’s last three games.

The Flames must be ready for the Bulldogs’ perimeter attack, particularly from seniors A.J. Graves and Pete Campbell. UIC frustrated Butler with a 2-3 zone in the team’s last meeting.

“If [the situation] calls for a little bit of zone, we will do that. We know whatever we do it’s got to be right. We don’t have the gray area that we might have against other teams when we play Butler, so whatever we do, it has to be right and it has to come with a lot of energy.”

Television coverage will be available on ESPNU, while the UIC radio team of Adam Levinson and Denny Wills, will broadcast live on WIND-AM 560.

PAST HORIZON LEAGUE TOURNAMENT MEETINGS: This will be the fourth meeting between the Flames and Bulldogs in the MCC/Horizon League tournament. UIC has won two of the three.

The Flames, as a No. 7 seed, stunned Butler 107-97 in the 1996 quarterfinals at Wright State. UIC attempted a tournament-record 50 free throws as the Bulldogs made a valiant comeback attempt against a Flames’ squad that seemed like it couldn’t miss. That game marked Bob Hallberg’s final win as UIC head coach. …

The very next season, Butler edged the Flames 69-68 in the championship game, again at Wright State. It was the end of Collins’ first year at UIC as the Flames rebounded from a 1-8 start to finish in a tie for second in the conference. Anthony Coomes and Mike King each scored 19 points and Mark Miller added 18 points as the Flames nearly rallied from a 16-point deficit. …

In the 2004 semifinals, UIC knocked off Butler 65-56 at Hinkle Fieldhouse as Cedrick Banks scored 22 points and Armond Williams added 10 points and 12 rebounds. The Flames went on the championship game and beat Milwaukee to advance to the NCAA tournament.

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Valpo senior Jarryd Loyd scored 17 points and hit four free throws in the final seconds.

VALPARAISO 72, WRIGHT STATE 67: Behind Shawn Huff’s 21 points and Jarryd Loyd’s clutch free throws, the No. 6 seed Crusaders (21-12) eliminated the No. 3 seed Raiders.

Huff hit a three-pointer with 3:51 remaining to give Valpo a 65-63 lead. WSU’s Jordan Pleiman hit a layup to tie the game with 2:55 to go. Urule Igbavboa split a pair of free throws for a 66-65 lead with 1:51 to play.

After freshman Troy Tabler hit two free throws to pull WSU within 68-67 with 16 seconds left, Loyd drained both ends of a one-and-one with 12.2 seconds left. Tabler missed a game-tying three on the Raiders’ next possession and Loyd hit the final daggers from the line with four-tenths of a second on the clock.

Besides Huff, Igbavboa contributed 17 points and eight rebounds, Brandon McPherson added 16 points and Loyd finished with 14.

“We had four in double figures, which is the strength of our team,” Valpo coach Homer Drew said. “They really share the ball—they really like to make the extra pass.”

Pleiman and Scottie Wilson each had 15 points to lead the Raiders, who lost for the fourth time in five games. Todd Brown and Vaughn Duggins each chipped in 14 points.

2008 HORIZON LEAGUE TOURNAMENT

TUESDAY, MARCH 4 FIRST ROUND

#3 Wright State 60, #10 Detroit 37

#6 Valparaiso 75, #7 Green Bay 67

#4 UIC 70, #9 Youngstown State 59

#8 Loyola 57, #5 Milwaukee 51

FRIDAY, MARCH 7 SECOND ROUND (at Butler)

#6 Valparaiso 72, #3 Wright State 67

#4 UIC 60, #8 Loyola 49

SATURDAY, MARCH 8 SEMIFINALS (at Butler)

#6 Valparaiso (21-12) vs. #2 Cleveland State (20-11), 3:30

#4 UIC (18-14) vs. #1 Butler (27-3), 5:30

TUESDAY, MARCH 11 CHAMPIONSHIP

At highest remaining seed, 8

All times Central

In other recent news:
HORIZON TOURNEY: Loyola awaits UIC for Round 3 (3/6/08)
HORIZON TOURNEY: Balance boosts Flames past YSU (3/5/08)
Mayo, VanderMeer receive Horizon honors (3/4/08)
VanderMeer lifts Flames to No. 4 seed (at Milwaukee) (3/2/08)
UIC's last-second loss puts home game in peril (at Green Bay) (2/29/08)
Bush leads Flames' balanced attack (at N. Iowa) (2/24/08)
Three spree helps Butler escape UIC (2/21/08)
Raiders steal victory from Flames (at Wight State) (2/17/08)
Bad night for Flames, Goode for Titans (at Detroit) (2/15/08)
Stewart helps put Flames in cruise control (vs. Valpo) (2/12/08)