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February thaw

After ice-cold start, Flames fire up to cap sweep of WSU

February 2, 2019

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UIC guard Jamie Ahale, who hit three 3-pointers Friday night, rises up for a shot as Wright State's Loudon Love tries to close out.

For over 12 minutes Friday night, UIC's offense was in the deep freeze, then like an unpredictable Chicago weather pattern, caught fire for the rest of the game.

The Flames had just four points until the 7:32 mark of the first half after starting the game 1-for-12 from the field with seven turnovers, but dramatically turned the game around in a 67-53 victory over Wright State at Credit Union 1 Arena.

The Flames (11-12, 5-5 Horizon League) ended up shooting 46 percent for the game after hitting 56 percent in the second half to finish off a season sweep of the Raiders (11-12, 6-4), who had entered the game on a four-game winning streak and sitting in second place in the Horizon.

The key for UIC was its defense never wavered, holding the Raiders to 28.1 percent shooting for the game.

"After a slow start, I was really proud of how our guys kept their energy defensively," UIC coach Steve McClain said. "We were getting good looks, they just wouldn't go in. Maybe it showed some growth from the (Oakland) game where we struggled early and kinda gave in. Instead tonight, we struggled early, but we kept guarding then we finally got it going."

With UIC trailing 14-4, Jordan Blount broke the ice with a layup to ignite the run. Marcus Ottey and Tarkus Ferguson, who shared game-high honors with 17 points apiece, hit consecutive 3-pointers and Michael Diggins hit a layup to cap a 15-4 run and put the Flames ahead 19-18 with 2:46 left in the half.

Godwin Boahen converted a four-point play and Ottey drilled another 3-point as the Flames inexplicably took a 26-22 into the locker room.

"We kept saying during every timeout in the first half, 'We're getting good looks, they're going to go down, so don't lose your energy because all of sudden we can't make a couple of shots.' " McClain said.

That momentum carried over into the second half where after the Raiders took the lead back briefly, the Flames regain control.

Ferguson, who is 1-for-14 from three-point range over his last three games, began to get aggressive with drives to the basket. He hit a pair of layups and two free throws during a 13-4 run that put UIC ahead 43-34.

"(Ferguson) understands the game. He knows what the game was giving him," McClain said. "Tonight it was giving him drives to the basket. They were going to make him come off (the three-point arc). He did a great job of adjusting."

"My goal was to get to the basket," Ferguson added. "I wasn't hitting the 3-ball. Basically I wanted to keep attacking."

Another key factor was the emergence of clutch play from Australian sophomore Jamie Ahale, who drained three timely 3-pointers during the second half.

"If we kept moving the ball we're going to get the right looks," McClain said. "In the first half, I thought Jamie was catching the ball and just trying to get rid of it. In the second half, he knocked down three big 3s for us."

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UIC forward Jordan Blount, center, is interviewed by ESPN's Brooke Weisbrod, left, and Jordan Bernfield after the Flames' victory over Wright State.

Ahale finished one triple shy of his career high in a Flames uniform.

"I shoot so much, I figured they'd go down eventually," Ahale said. "My teammates and my coaches give me confidence to shoot it when I'm open. It gives me a lot of confidence to see the ball go in the basket."

Loudon Love, the Raiders' big man from the Chicago area, tried bringing WSU back as he converted a three-point play with 5:11 remaining to cut the Flames' lead to 54-47, but Ahale answered with his third triple on Ferguson's fifth assist of the night, effectively sealing the victory for UIC.

Love was held in check all night by the Flames' physical play and frequent double teams in the post. He was 5-for-20 from the field while finishing with 13 points and 12 rebounds.

Jordan Blount, UIC's 6-foot-8 Irish assassin, was the primary defender on Love and had a solid effort, scoring eight points to go with four rebounds, three steals and plenty of floorburn.

"We need consistency from (Blount)," McClain said. "Tonight he did a great job. He was diving for balls. He and Rob (Howard) were fighting Love in there. You can't be a one-hit wonder. Everybody can be good one night, but can you consistently be good every night?"

FLAMES FLICKERS: With his four-point play late in the first half, Boahen has hit at least one 3-pointer in 41 consecutive games. Boahen also led the Flames with six assists as UIC had 18 assists on 23 field goals. ... WSU outrebounded UIC 39-33, but the Flames were able to keep it close. ... WSU's Mark Hughes had a game-high five steals. ... Travell Washington, the hero in the Flames' win at Wright State to start conference play, missed his lone shot attempt in just under six minutes of action. ... WSU's 53 points were the fewest by a Flames' opponent this season. ... The Flames swept the Raiders in the regular season for the first time since the 2014-15 season. ... Former UIC assistant coach Dick Nagy was in attendance to watch his son, WSU coach Scott Nagy.


In other recent news:
Oakland 80, UIC 67: Going splay (1/28/19)
UIC 79, Detroit Mercy 67: Blount on a mission (1/25/19)
Green Bay 90, UIC 85: Double trouble (1/22/19)
Milwaukee 81, UIC 69: Upsetting night (1/18/19)
UIC 73, Cleveland State 56: It's a three spree (1/14/19)
UIC 78, Youngstown State 63: Smoking hot (1/11/19)
IUPUI 66, UIC 64: Slow start too much (1/7/19)
Northern Kentucky 73, UIC 58: Sluggish night (1/1/19)
UIC 75, Wright State 72 (OT): The few, the proud (12/29/18)
UIC 76, St. Francis (Joliet) 55: Getting back on track (12/26/18)