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Pluck of the Irish

Blount’s energy boost Flames to sweep of IUPUI

By Mike Pankow

January 28, 2018

Mike Pankow/Whoosh!

Tai Odiase, left, and Jordan Blount celebrate by UIC’s bench after Blount’s dunk in the second half Saturday against IUPUI.

Jordan Blount had a simple explanation for his aggressive nature on the court whether it comes to grabbing a rebound or a loose ball or driving to the basket for a high-percentage shot.

“That kind of stuff comes from how I grew up,” Blount said. “I grew up in a big family with a lot of siblings, it’s the Irish in me.”

The Cork, Ireland, native was the firestarter for UIC again as he stuffed the stat sheet with seven points, a career-high 14 rebounds, seven assists and five steals Saturday afternoon in the Flames’ 71-62 victory over IUPUI at the Pavilion.

It was UIC’s sixth victory in seven games.

The sophomore forward’s fighting spirit helped inspire the rest of teammates after a sluggish first half after which UIC trailed 32-27.

“He’s just playing hard, that’s just something you can’t teach,” UIC coach Steve McClain said. “That’s something I saw in him when I recruited him. Jordan only knows one thing – full speed. Sometimes that can be bad, and you’ve got to live with a few of the bad things to know the other things are going to be great plays for our team.”

With the Flames (11-11, 6-3 Horizon League) trailing 41-34 with 15:16 left in the game, Blount’s energy finally started rubbing off.

And McClain finally found a combination that included four bench players – freshman forward Michael Diggins, sophomore guards Godwin Boahen and Dominique Matthews and senior center Clint Robinson – that helped the Flames get back into the game.

The length of Diggins and aggressive nature of the rest of the crew disrupted IUPUI and spurred an 8-0 run, capped by Boahen’s layup for a 42-41 lead.

“The strength of our team is our depth,” McClain said. “When that second group came in and got us going, I didn’t plan on sitting our subs for that long, but the game said let this group finish. Then the other group came back in fresh.”

And Blount and the rest of the starters came back in and finished the job. Blount drove the basket and kicked out a pass to Boahen, who buried a 3-pointer that gave UIC a 49-48 lead with 8:14 remaining.

“We’re a really deep team,” said senior center Tai Odiase, who had 11 points, nine rebounds and four blocks. “When we make substitutions, we don’t really have any drop-off.”

Mike Pankow/Whoosh!

UIC’s Marcus Ottey goes for the block of IUPUI’s Ron Patterson in the first half.

A little later, Blount fed Odiase with a great pass that led to a dunk, came up with a steal that he finished himself with a dunk as part of a 12-0 burst. Dikembe Dixson knocked down a 3-pointer and Odiase added a layup to close the run with the Flames ahead 61-50 with 4:31 to play.

UIC never led by fewer than six the rest of the way.

Marcus Ottey led the Flames with 18 points after an off game against Cleveland State a week ago while Dixson ended up with 15 points. Ron Patterson finished with 18 points on six 3-pointers for the Jaguars (7-14, 4-6).

UIC reached the .500 mark overall after a 5-10 start and even more importantly, improved to 6-3 in the Horizon League – the Flames’ best nine-game start in conference play since the 2002-03 season when they were 7-2.

But the number of victories doesn’t matter to Blount, who says the Flames have tunnel vision.

“Right now, we’re not looking at that (record),” he said. “We’re not looking at how many games we’ve won. We’re just trying to win the next game. Every game our mentality is we’re 0-0 and we’re trying to get to 1-0.”

FLAMES FLICKERS: The Flames improved to 5-0 all-time against IUPUI and finished off a season sweep of the Jaguars in the first season as members of the Horizon League. ... Robinson returned after the missing the Cleveland State game on Jan. 20 with an ankle injury. He finished with seven points, three rebounds and three blocks in 12 minutes. He turned the ankle against Youngstown State two days earlier. … UIC shot just 33.3 percent in the opening half, but drained 60 percent after halftime to finish at 45.5 percent for the game. … The Flames committed 14 turnovers against an IUPUI team that usually forces nearly 16 per game, which ranked 43rd in the nation.

POSTGAME VIDEOS:

In other recent news:
UIC 87, Cleveland State 80: Blount pushes Flames (1/21/18)
UIC 92, Youngstown State 78: Block party (1/19/18)
Oakland 78, UIC 68: Treacherous trio (1/16/18)
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)