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Robbins emerges, but Crusaders too tough

FLAMES FIZZLE TO 5TH STRAIGHT LOSS

January 22, 2010

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Junior center K.C. Robbins scored a career-best 14 points to go with eight rebounds and four blocked shots to lead the Flames.

With UIC coming in on a four-game slide, coach Jimmy Collins wanted to find a spark.

Collins may have found one in 6-foot-11, 270-pound junior center K.C. Robbins, but the coach didn’t get the desired results from his Flames on Thursday night.

Despite two starting lineup changes, UIC dropped its fifth straight game, 64-58 to Valparaiso at the Pavilion.

Collins inserted Robbins and senior guard Chris Buchanan into the starting lineup and sat senior forward Jeremy Buttell and sophomore guard Zavion Neely.

Robbins responded with a career-high 14 points on 7-for-12 shooting, eight rebounds and four assists in 34 minutes to lead the Flames (5-13, 1-7 Horizon League).

“[K.C.’s] attitude has been good,” Collins said. “He comes in and does extra work and it’s paying off, and so does [freshman center Louis] Green. When we get ready to leave at night, Kyle and Green are still working. You’ve got to reward guys for that.

“I think K.C. did a really good job tonight,” Collins added. “He rebounded the ball well. I thought he played some good defense. He’s been working hard for the last week or so.”

Buchanan also had a solid game, scoring a career-high 11 points and providing stout defense in 28 minutes of play.

“[Buchanan] played pretty darn good defense tonight,” said junior guard Robo Kreps, who scored just nine points. “We need that a lot from him, and he can be threat on the offensive end. He’s definitely a breath of fresh air.”

Collins said the team’s performance dictated that he make some alterations to the lineup.

“We’ve to do that, because we are 5-13, and there are guys who think that starting lineup belongs to them,” Collins said. “We’ve got to get guys ready that are going to represent. We’ve got to play more young guys. With the record that we have, the older guys have not produced.”

The switcheroo wasn’t enough to stunt the Crusaders (9-11, 4-4), which used good balance and grit to earn their third straight win.

Two of the league’s top newcomers were among Valpo’s stars: Sophomore guard Brandon Wood, a transfer from Southern Illinois, scored a game-high 16 points and junior forward Cory Johnson, a transfer from Iowa State, had nine points, 12 rebounds and four assists.

Howard Little scored 14 points, Michael Rogers contributed 11 and Brandon McPherson added 10 to round out the Crusaders in double figures.

The Flames seemed focused on getting Robbins involved in the post early as he scored UIC’s first basket and got three shot attempts in the first three minutes-plus.

The inside play opened up the outside a bit as Buchanan scored five points, including a three-point basket, as UIC grabbed a 10-9 lead with 13:34 left in the first half.

“My teammates helped me out a lot by getting me the ball,” Robbins said of the Flames’ early success. “We moved the ball really well on the perimeter. We ran our plays effectively, we spread the zone.”

However, the Crusaders grabbed the lead for good on Wood’s layup with 5:58 left before halftime. They extended to the advantage to seven at 33-26 when Rogers grabbed a loose ball and laid it in at the first-half buzzer after Buchanan blocked a Little jumper.

Brad Birton scored on a stickback with to cut the Flames’ deficit to 33-32 with 15:19 left, but Rogers answered right back with a trey.

Valpo went on an 11-3 run to stretch its lead up to 44-35 with 12:14 remaining. UIC fought back, thanks in part two baskets by Robbins, to crawl within a 48-47 with 5:06 to play when Kreps hit a three-pointer.

The Flames trailed by two with 3:11 left before Valpo scored six straight points, capped by a breakaway dunk by Wood for a 58-50 lead with 1:35 to go.

Buttell hit a three to close the gap to 59-55 with 43.7 seconds left, but UIC could get no closer.

Defensively, the Flames were good, holding the Crusaders to 32 percent shooting for the game and 25 percent in the second half, but deficiency in other areas killed them.

The Flames had another difficult night cleaning the glass as Valpo outrebounded them 41-33, including 19-12 on the offensive end. On one first-half possession, the Crusaders grabbed five straight offensive boards before finally converting.

“We weren’t chasing down the long rebounds like we should have,” Robbins said. “The scouting report said they were going to shoot [from the perimeter]. Long rebounds were going to be the key.”

FLAMES FLICKERS: Valpo had a strong game at the free-throw line, making 26 of 34 attempts (77 percent). UIC was just 10-for-17 (59 percent). … Valpo won for the first time at the UIC Pavilion since a 101-94 decision in the 1992-93 season. UIC had won the last five meetings at the Pavilion by an average of 20.6 points per game. … Buttell had 13 points in 26 minutes off the bench, but Collins said that Buttell’s “post defense” was hurting him. … Senior point guard Spencer Stewart had eight rebounds, seven assists and two blocks, but he also had six turnovers. … Collins dropped to 215-199 overall as Flames coach.

UP NEXT: UIC closes its three-game homestand against Butler on Saturday afternoon at the Pavilion.

Tip time is 1 p.m. with coverage on the Horizon League Network, WMVP-AM 1000 and espnchicago.com. The game is also the HLN Game of the Week and will broadcast by Comcast SportsNet at 12:30 a.m. late Saturday night/early Sunday.

Butler is 15-4 overall and 8-0 in the conference after surviving a scare at Loyola on Thursday, escaping with a 48-47 win at the Gentile Center.

In other recent news:
McCammon puts daggers in Flames (vs. Loyola, plus roster news) (1/15/10)
Road still unkind to Flames (at Cleveland St.) (1/10/10)
Buttell's big night can't save UIC (at Youngstown St.) (1/8/10)
Flames look listless, lost (vs. Wright St.) (1/3/10)
Kreps gets free ride as Flames beat Titans (vs. Detroit) (12/31/09)
Neely flips switch, Flames burn Rockets (vs. Toledo) (12/30/09)
Coal in Flames’ stockings (at Wisconsin) (12/28/09)
Zips dominate boards, extinguish Flames (at Akron) (12/22/09)
Flames take bite out of Huskies (vs. NIU) (12/20/09)
Kreps finishes off Flames' comeback (vs. Oregon St.) (12/17/09)