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Treacherous trio

Flames can’t quite overcome Oakland’s Big 3

By Mike Pankow

January 16, 2018

Mike Pankow/Whoosh!

Oakland’s Kendrick Nunn, who scored 32 points Monday night, puts up a 3-pointer as UIC’s Marcus Ottey defends in the second half.

UIC took arguably the most talented and experienced team in the Horizon League down to the wire Monday night.

However, Oakland’s trio of stars was just a little too much for the Flames to handle in the end as the visiting Golden Grizzlies ended UIC’s three-game winning streak with a 78-68 victory at the Pavilion.

Kendrick Nunn, Jalen Hayes and Martez Walker, three seniors, combined for 65 points – 83.3 percent of the output for the Golden Grizzlies (12-8, 4-3).

After the Flames (8-11, 3-3 Horizon) fought back to tie the contest at 65-65, Nunn, Hayes and Walker scored on consecutive possessions to ignite a game-closing 13-3 run.

“It’s hard to defend them,” UIC coach Steve McClain said. “You know they’re going to get theirs. But the game came down to we couldn’t score (in the end). It was a high-level game and we can learn some things from it.”

Nunn, a familiar face to those in the Chicago area, scored a game-high 32 points 10-for-23 shooting. The former Simeon and Illinois star guard hit a midrange jumper and converted a three-point play to give Oakland the lead for good at 68-65 with 3:25 remaining.

Nunn transferred to Oakland for his senior season after being dismissed from the University of Illinois after domestic violence accusations. After an exhaustive background check, Kampe accepted Nunn into his program.

Nunn had to sit out a season before becoming eligible, but now he is the Horizon League’s leading scorer.

“I put in a lot of work,” Nunn said. “I’m getting good results, so it shows hard work pays off. Oakland’s system is always known for having good offensive players that fit the system pretty well. I’m buying into Coach (Kampe).”

Speaking of work, the Flames showed they’ve been working diligently as well. UIC showed for most of the night that its improvement over the last few games was no fluke.

Dikembe Dixson and Tai Odiase each scored 13 points and Marcus Ottey added 12 points and five assists for the Flames, who had plenty of opportunities until things got away in the final few minutes.

The first half was a back-and-forth affair with both teams shooting the lights out. Neither team led by more than five points while there were six ties and seven lead changes.

Godwin Boahen gave the Flames a 29-28 lead with 8:10 left in the first half after he scored five straight points, including a 3-pointer. Nunn, of course, answered with one of his five 3-pointers to give the Golden Grizzlies the lead back.

Hayes and Isaiah Brock had dunks on back-to-back possessions late in the half as Oakland took a 44-40 lead into the intermission. Oakland shot 54.5 percent in the first half and the Flames hit 51.9 percent.

Mike Pankow/Whoosh!

UIC center Tai Odiase slams home a dunk as Oakland’s Isaiah Brock looks on.

Both teams cooled off considerably in the second half, but the Grizzlies hit some timely shots, especially from 3-point land.

“It was a tale of two halves,” McClain said. “The first half neither team can get a stop and then in the second half the game slowed down. I thought that worked to their advantage. I didn’t think we played fast enough. Some of that was created by their defense. We let the game be too slow.”

Every time Oakland threatened to pull away, the Flames would counter with a mini-run of its own to climb right back into it.

Walker hit a 3-pointer for a 53-48 lead, but Ottey capped a 6-0 burst with a driving layup, as UIC took a 54-53 lead with 9:47 to play.

Again, Nunn answered with seven straight points, capped by a 3-pointer from the wing, for a 60-54 advantage.

While Oakland’s shooting percentage dropped to 40.9 percent in the second half, the Flames couldn’t take advantage.

“That’s who Nunn is,” said McClain on Nunn’s persistence. “He’s going to get his shots. Where we didn’t take care of it was when we were getting stops in the second half, we didn’t go score and create a lead during that time.”

After a Nunn putback pit Oakland up 65-58, the Flames went on a 7-0 run, including a turnaround jumper by Odiase, a 3-pointer by Boahen and two free throws by Dixson, to tie it up at 65-65 with 3:43 left.

However, the veteran Big 3 slammed the door for the Golden Grizzlies, who won their third straight since falling at home to Northern Kentucky and Wright State.

Kampe gave his props to UIC and admiration for what McClain has done for the Flames in his third season.

“He’s proven that he can recruit players,” Kampe said. “You can see it coming. It’s close. They’re not far away and he’s still playing a lot of young kids. I think they are way ahead of the curve. If I were a UIC fan, I would be excited about our future.”

FLAMES FLICKERS: The Flames fell to 1-13 all-time against Oakland with the only win coming in the 2015 Horizon League tournament when UIC won 72-69 in a quarterfinal matchup at Valparaiso. … Flames sophomore point guard Tarkus Ferguson had eight points, seven rebounds and a team-best six assists. … Sophomore forward Jordan Blount scored all eight of his points in the first half and finished with a team-high nine rebounds and three steals, but he did commit five turnovers. … UIC had just 12 turnovers as a team, two fewer than Oakland. … Only five players scored for the Grizzlies with Nick Daniels (11) and Isaiah Brock (2) the only others besides the Big 3 to scratch. … Odiase is just four blocks shy of the Horizon League career record of Youngstown State’s Damian Eargle. Odiase has 305 in his career after blocking two against Oakland. … UIC goes on the road to face Youngstown State and Cleveland State – a trip the Flames swept last season.

POSTGAME VIDEOS:

In other recent news:
UIC 88, Milwaukee 73: “Juice” on the loose (1/13/18)
UIC 84, Green Bay 73: Helping hand (1/11/18)
UIC 70, IUPUI 65: Hard-earned victory (1/7/18)
Northern Kentucky 86, UIC 51: Rock bottom (1/2/18)
Wright State 65, UIC 61: Right through their fingers (12/28/17)
UIC 84, Trinity Christian 45: Tandem offense (12/26/17)
Northern Illinois 69, UIC 63: State of disappointment (12/22/17)
Illinois State 71, UIC 70: Cruel road (12/20/17)
UIC 76, Dartmouth 60: Point made (12/16/17)