All hail, Ahale!
Super finish from sophomore beats 1st-place NKU
February 4, 2019
The Australian sophomore who often lights up practice with his perimeter shooting made it count Sunday afternoon with a super clutch 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds left as UIC knocked off first-place Northern Kentucky 69-67 at Credit Union 1 Arena on Sunday afternoon.
Ahale's ending was more exciting that most of pro football's championship game which was played later that evening.
It was the only basket of the game for Ahale, whom Tarkus Ferguson found in the right corner. Ahale took a quick dribble and sidestep as NKU's Tyler Sharpe flew by on a closeout and drained the open jumper.
"We were going to run Mike (Diggins) over the top, if we had him for the lob, we were going to throw it," said UIC coach Steve McClain of the options on the final play. "Ferg did an unbelievable job of seeing (Sharpe) come in, he throws it to Jamie. Even if he had missed it, it was the right play."
Ferguson was quick to recognize Sharpe had decided to help down low, freeing up Ahale for the good look.
"They helped off me, so that's why I was open," Ahale said. "It was a good shot and I knocked it down.
"We shoot it so much (in practice). When you get into a game, you've done so many times before, it becomes so natural."
After a few timeouts and a replay review, Sharpe put up a potential game-winning 3, but it wedged between the rim and the backboard at the buzzer.
Ferguson led the Flames (12-12, 6-5 Horizon League) by narrowly missing his second triple-double of the season, finishing with 19 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. For the second straight game UIC registered a high percentage of assists to field goals, ending up 20 helpers on 26 baskets. Five players recorded at least two assists for the Flames.
"Everybody eats to be honest," Ferguson said. "The main emphasis in this game was to pass it."
McClain enjoyed his team's offensive flow.
"It means the ball is moving and we're finding the open shooter," he said. "That means you're going to be hard to guard."
Diggins, the 6-foot-8 sophomore, was productive offensively and a disruptor on defense for the Flames. He finished with 16 points on 7-for-10 shooting.
Sunday's victory capped a sweep of the two top teams in the Horizon League following a solid 14-point win over Wright State on Friday night.
"I'm really proud of how we came out and started the game," McClain said. "You know (NKU is) a championship-level team. They're going to come back and make a run. I thought our guys kept our composure. We had some things go against us. We just kept fighting and digging."
Much like the Flames (12-12, 6-5 Horizon) struggled in the first half Friday night against Wright State, the Norse struggled mightily to score Sunday.
The Flames opened a 13-4 lead on Godwin Boahen's jumper with 13:15 left in the first half and NKU remained stuck on four points until Drew McDonald's basket with 10:28 left in the half.
Ferguson drilled a 3-pointer with 6:08 left to give UIC its biggest lead at 21-10. NKU answered with an 8-0 run, but Diggins helped stem the tide with a 3-pointer and a layup as the Flames took a 33-25 lead into the locker room.
The Flames’ defense did a bang-up job, especially on NKU superstar Drew McDonald, who had to work hard for his 18 points, shooting 8-for-15 from the field. Sharpe's 20 points led the Norse (18-6, 8-3), who shot 41.7 percent.
"Ninety percent of the time we were in the positions we wanted to be in," McClain said. "McDonald is a really good player, he's going to score. Our guys stayed with the game plan as good as we've done all year."
UIC's lead disappeared within about five minutes as McDonald hit a jumper to give NKU a 41-40 lead. Rob Howard answered for the Flames 23 seconds later.
Diggins added another dunk and a nifty three-point play as UIC extended its lead to 52-46 with 9:09 left.
The Flames led 66-59 after two Marcus Ottey free throws with 2:13 left, but the Norse charged all the way back.
Sharpe hit a pair of free throws with 1:05 left to cut UIC's lead to 66-65. After officials ruled that the ball went off Ottey after an inbounds play, McDonald scored on quick-hitter to give NKU the 67-66 edge with just under a minute to play.
Ottey and Sharpe traded misses, giving the Flames one last chance in regulation. Jalen Tate blocked Boahen's drive to the basket out of bounds, setting up Ferguson's dish to Ahale for the winner.
"Everybody always remembers the play at the end of the game," McClain said. "But the defense at the end, the defense the whole game, staying with our game plan, I couldn't be more proud of this group for a tough weekend."
FLAMES FLICKERS: Ahale is the second UIC newcomer to hit a last-second game-winner this season, following freshman Travell Washington's overtime buzzer-beater at Wright State on Dec. 28. ... Ferguson, who was 1-for-14 in his previous three games from three-point range, was 4-for-7 from deep on Sunday. ... Going 0-for-5 from long range, Boahen's streak of hitting at least one 3-pointer ended at 41 consecutive games. ... UIC outrebounded NKU 37-32, led by Ferguson's nine boards. Jordan Blount also had seven rebounds. … It was just the Flames' second win all-time against NKU in eight meetings. The only other time came Feb. 13, 2016 when Tai Odiase snuffed McDonald just before the buzzer in a 79-77 home victory.
POSTGAME VIDEOS (courtesy UIC Flames on YouTube):