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Weary Flames bow out in semifinals

TOP-SEED BUTLER TOO MUCH

March 9, 2008

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Butler’s Mike Green trying to drive past UIC’s Josh Mayo, had 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists to lead the No. 14 ranked Bulldogs.

INDIANAPOLIS—When senior forward Jermaine Dailey hammered home an alley-oop dunk in the opening minutes, it appeared that UIC was making a statement to mighty Butler that the Flames wouldn’t go down without a fight.

The Flames led for most of the first half, but the No. 14 Bulldogs finally took advantage of a tired UIC team and pulled away for a 66-50 victory in the Horizon League semifinals at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday night.

No. 4 seed UIC defeated Loyola in Friday night’s quarterfinals, while top-seeded Butler had an automatic bye into the semifinals.

“We played pretty hard [against Loyola],” UIC coach Jimmy Collins said. “Then we had to come back and play Butler. I don’t want to talk about the format of the Horizon League tournament. I’m not complaining about it, because if we were 1 or 2, I would have been happy.”

Horizon League player of the year Mike Green contributed a great all-around game of 19 points, seven rebounds and seven assists to lead the Bulldogs (28-3) into Tuesday’s championship game against second-seeded Cleveland State.

“He’s a tremendous leader for this team,” Collins said. “Green looks to set up everybody else. When doesn’t get that accomplished, he scores. He is a pretty complete guard and he’s the perfect fit for a team like Butler.”

Pete Campbell added 15 points on five three-pointers off the bench and A.J. Graves scored 14 points and hit four threes for the Bulldogs.

UIC looked inspired early as it took a 4-0 lead on the dunk by Dailey, prompted Butler coach Brad Stevens to burn a timeout less than two minutes into the game.

“I just didn’t think our first four possessions were very good,” Stevens said. “There was a lot of game of left, and it was important to remind them that there was a lot of game left. I thought UIC came out with a lot of energy and played really well, especially early.”

Butler composed itself a bit, but the Flames stuck around for awhile. UIC led by as many as five points at 16-11 after a Scott VanderMeer free throw with 10:18 before halftime.

Matt Howard scored on a putback to pull the Bulldogs into an 18-18 tie. UIC’s Robert Kreps hit a free throw for a 19-18 lead, but Green hit a 17-footer to put Butler on top for good.

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UIC coach Jimmy Collins was pleased with the Flames’ effort in the first half despite the team having tired legs.

Robert Bush’s three-pointer with 2:58 left in the half pulled the Flames within 25-23, but the Bulldogs ended the half on a 9-1 run that was ignited by Green, who scored four points and then found Julian Betko for a three-pointer and Drew Streicher cutting to the basket for a layup. It was a run that hit UIC like a punch to the gut and put the Flames behind 34-24 at the half.

“I just thought for 17 minutes we played some pretty good basketball,” Collins said. “For the last three minutes, we kind of let them get loose. They did some things that took the air out of our sails.”

Butler started the second half with another 9-1 blitz (an 18-2 spurt, all told) and built a 43-25 cushion after a three-pointer and two free throws by Green. The Bulldogs were finally able to subdue the Flames, who seemed to show their fatigue.

“We knew that we were going to score when we ran our stuff,” Green said. “It was just matter of getting stops. When we came out in the second half and got some stops that ignited us.”

UIC chipped the deficit down to 43-29 after a layup by Dailey, but the Bulldogs countered with the next 10 points, capped by a three-pointer from Campbell for a game-high 24-point advantage with 12:01 left.

The closest that Flames would get thereafter was 13 points.

The Bulldogs successful took the Flames’ top scorer Josh Mayo out of the game, holding the junior guard to just 2-for-13 shooting for a season-worst five points. The Bulldogs used multiple defenders on Mayo, including Green and Drew Streicher.

“The way we were guarding him, a lot of different people could have guarded him on a single possession,” Stevens said. “Everybody had great awareness when they were switched onto him.”

Mayo’s double-figure scoring streak was snapped at 27 games.

“They played pretty good D on me,” Mayo said. “The looks that I did have, I couldn’t get anything to fall. Sometimes they don’t fall and sometimes they do.”

Freshman Robert Kreps led UIC (18-15) with 15 points on 4-for-7 shooting and Dailey added a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds in his final game as a Flame.

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UIC forward Jermaine Dailey recorded 12 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots in his final college game.

“I approach every game like it’s my last one,” said Dailey, who also had three blocked shots. “It was do-or-die, so I just left everything out there on the floor.”

Butler proved its superiority on this night by shooting 45 percent from the field and 44 percent from three-point range, while holding UIC to just 30 percent from the field.

Not everything went the Bulldogs way as the Flames’ feistiness on the glass kept Butler on its toes. UIC won the rebound battle 37-32, including 19-10 on the offensive end. Dailey led the way with nine offensive boards, helping UIC to 25 second-chance points.

In the end, the Flames played much better than most prognosticators gave them credit for. UIC ended the season in a fourth-place tie in the Horizon League after being picked to finish eighth during the pre-season.

However, it is still a bitter pill to swallow for seniors, like Jermaine Dailey, Karl White Jr., Ebenezer Noonoo and Robert Bush to finish their UIC careers without appearing in the NCAA tournament.

“The loss will probably hit me on the long ride home,” said Bush, who scored nine points for the Flames. “I don’t think it’s hit me yet. I’m just in a state of shock right now. I think as the ride goes on, I think it’s going to hit me.”

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Valparaiso senior guard Jarryd Loyd nearly rallied the Crusaders all the way back to victory after they fell behind by 18 points.

CLEVELAND STATE 78, VALPARAISO 73: Cedric Jackson scored 22 points, grabbed eight rebounds and handed out three assists as the No. 2 seed Vikings (21-11) held off a furious rally from the Crusaders to advance to their first conference tournament final since 1987.

CSU led by as many as 18 points in the first half and 15 in the second half before Valpo stormed back. Jackson hit a jumper to put CSU ahead 63-54 with 6:16 left, but the Crusaders went on a 11-2 run to tie the game.

Jarryd Loyd, who led all scorers with 25 points, hit a driving layup to a forge a 65-65 deadlock with 2:50 remaining. On CSU’s next possession, defensive specialist Breyohn Watson became an offensive hero with a three-pointer with 2:27 to go, putting the Vikings back up 68-65.

CSU went back up by seven with under a minute to go and survived a flurry of offense from Loyd.

“Let me just say that we had some big plays down the stretch to finish that game out,” CSU coach Gary Waters said. “I have to give Valparaiso credit because they never gave up.”

J’Nathan Bullock added 19 points and eight rebounds for CSU, while Norris Cole chipped in with 11 points. Shawn Huff and Urule Igbavboa each had 15 points for sixth-seeded Valpo (21-13).

FLAMES FLICKERS: Mayo finished the season with 94 three-pointers, four better than the previous single-season record-holders Cedrick Banks and T.J. Gray. …

White went scoreless with two rebounds and an assist over 11 minutes in his final UIC game. Noonoo played the final two minutes and secured a rebound in his last career game. …

Junior center Scott VanderMeer wrapped up his season with seven points and seven rebounds against Butler. He capped the season with 85 blocks, an average of 2.6 per game. VamderMeer had at least one block in 28 of 33 games. Three of the five games that he went without a rejection came against Butler.

Coming soon: A look back at the season and a peek ahead at 2008-09.

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 (20-12) 72, #3 Wright State 67

#4 UIC 60, #8 Loyola 49

SATURDAY, MARCH 8 SEMIFINALS (at Butler)

#2 Cleveland State 78, #6 Valparaiso 73

#1 Butler 66, #4 UIC 50

TUESDAY, MARCH 11 CHAMPIONSHIP

#2 Cleveland State (21-11) at #1 Butler (28-3), 8

All times Central

In other recent news:
HORIZON TOURNEY: Flames freshmen close out Loyola (3/8/08)
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)