Blount pushes Flames
High-energy forward starts fire in road win over CSU
By Mike Pankow
January 21, 2018
The sophomore from Cork, Ireland, continued his aggressive play, securing his second career double-double with career highs of 17 points and 11 rebounds Saturday afternoon, as UIC pulled off its third straight road victory – 87-80 at Cleveland State.
Blount shot 8-for-13 from the field and was a central figure as the Flames (10-11, 5-3 Horizon League) broke open a close game at halftime.
“Jordan took what (Cleveland State) gave him,” UIC coach Steve McClain said. “He really didn’t force anything. He had the mind-set that he was going to guard and rebound and then take what they gave him (offensively) and he did a great job of that.”
Blount had plenty of help as the Flames showed the growing confidence of a team picked to finish near the top of the conference.
Sophomore guard Godwin Boahen scored a career-best 18 points on 6-for-8 from the field to lead UIC’s bench, which combined for 30 points. Point guard Tarkus Ferguson scored a season-high 16 points as the Flames improved to 5-1 since he returned from injury. Senior center Tai Odiase contributed 12 points, eight rebounds and two blocks as UIC shot 47.8 percent from the field.
It was a strong effort from a team that could’ve fatigued from playing five games in 11 days, including the final two on the road.
“To have these two games and one of longest trips of the season, I’m really proud of them,” McClain said. “We had a lot of different guys do a lot of good things and that was good to see.”
Blount, who was called for a questionable flagrant foul late in the first half when he hacked Cleveland State’s Stefan Kenic after Kenic got Blount up in the air on a pump fake, channeled his energy into a big run at the start of the second half.
Blount scored 12 points during a 32-12 burst right after halftime, mostly going to his bread-and-butter dribble drive to the basket. He hit four layups and a couple of jumpers in that run.
“I kind of got away from what I do best recently,” said Blount, who shot 8-for-13 from the field. “Coach (McClain) talked to me about getting back to what I do best, being able to go downhill and get buckets inside.”
The Flames extended the lead 72-50 on a Dominique Matthews layup with 8:16 left.
The Vikings made a hearty run toward the end, cutting the deficit to 85-80 on Bobby
Word’s 3-pointer in the final 10 seconds, but the Flames had more than enough to close the door. UIC was 8-for-8 from the free-throw line in the final 1:21.
“The second half we came out and took control of the game,” McClain said. “Even though they got some 3s to go in there at the end, we really had the game (even though) we made it interesting there at the end.”
The Flames started slowly, falling behind 6-1 at the outset and it took a while to wrest the lead from the struggling Vikings (5-16, 2-6). UIC finally figured things out as the half wore on as Boahen hit a jumper for a 34-25 lead with 3:17 left to cap a 13-2 run.
Cleveland State took a 38-35 lead after it countered with a 13-1 run, including four free throws by freshman Tyree Appleby (19 points, seven assists) and the flagrant foul call on Blount.
However, the Flames finished the half strong with an Odiase dunk and freshman Michael Diggins’ 3-pointer at the buzzer for a 40-38 lead. That helped the Flames take serious momentum into the final 20 minutes.
“As long as we’re locked down defensively, our offense would get rolling,” Blount said. “Once we had that intensity, I don’t think anyone can guard us.”
FLAMES FLICKERS: Odiase reached a milestone for the second straight game, surpassing the 1,000-point mark for his career after setting the Horizon League career blocks record at Youngstown State on Thursday. “I’m really proud of how far he’s come in a short time,” McClain said. “He didn’t score a lot as a freshman. That’s a credit to him and (assistant coach) Seth Cooper that’s he gotten into the gym and worked to be a better player.” … UIC’s leading scorers entering Saturday, Marcus Ottey and Dikembe Dixson, who were averaging a combined 28 points per game, together totaled just 12 points, but the Flames’ depth really showed as four other players hit double figures. … The Flames committed just 10 turnovers Saturday – the second straight game they had 10 or fewer. … For the second straight season, UIC swept the Cleveland-Youngstown road trip. … The Flames’ 5-3 record through eight conference game is their best since a 6-2 Horizon League start in the 2002-03 season. … Senior reserve center Clint Robinson (ankle) did not play. … The Flames a week off before their next game when they return home to face IUPUI on Saturday, Jan. 27.
POSTGAME VIDEOS (courtesy UIC Flames on YouTube):