Ferguson takes over
Freshman huge in OT as Flames end 4-game skid
By Mike Pankow
February 5, 2017
The freshman guard from Belleville Althoff scored 12 of his career-high 25 points and provided a key assist in overtime as UIC snapped a four-game losing streak with a 105-100 victory over Milwaukee at UWM Panther Arena.
Ferguson, who committed a costly turnover in the final seconds of regulation after appearing to be fouled, finished 7-for-15 from the field and 9-for-10 from the free-throw line and handed out a career-high 11 assists for the Flames (12-12, 5-6 Horizon).
“He took it personally,” UIC coach Steve McClain said. “I think he had felt he didn’t play well at the end of (regulation). He just made up his mind that he was going to be the best guard on the court and he was.”
With the game tied at 85-85, Ferguson immediately attacked the basket at the start of overtime, hitting a short jumper. He scored the Flames’ first seven points of the extra session, putting UIC ahead 92-87 on a 3-pointer with 3:39 left.
“The end of regulation kind of made me mad, because they didn’t call a foul,” Ferguson said. “I had to get buckets (in the overtime).”
After the Panthers (8-17, 4-8) pulled to within 92-90, Ferguson hit fellow freshman K.J. Santos on the left wing and Santos knocked down his fifth 3-pointer of the game to extend the lead to five.
“Ferguson was fantastic,” Milwaukee coach LaVall Jordan said. “He’s a hell of a ballplayer. You look at the roster and he’s a freshman, so we’ll have to see that for four years.”
After Milwaukee’s Brock Stull nailed a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession to cut it to two again, redshirt freshman Dominique Matthews hit a mid-range jumper while being fouled. He converted the three-point play to put the Flames up 98-93 with 49.6 seconds left.
UIC put the game away by making 7 of 8 from the free-throw line in the final 34 seconds to finish with their highest point total since 2001.
In addition to Ferguson’s huge game, Matthews and Santos also established career highs in points for the second consecutive game. Matthews finished with 23 points on 8-for-14 shooting, including four 3-pointers, and Santos chipped in 19 points on 7-for-8 shooting, including a career-high five 3s, for the Flames, who shot a blistering 61 percent for the game (a season best) and made a season-high 15 3-pointers.
“They’ve been playing very well, knocking down shots,” Ferguson said. “K.J. has stepped his 3-point game up. Almost every time I get him the ball, he’s making a shot.”
Junior center Tai Odiase had 12 points, six rebounds and five blocks and sophomore guard Michael Kolawole contributed 12 points and seven rebounds to add support for UIC.
Stull, who was held in check during the teams’ first meeting at the Pavilion on Jan. 17, scored a career-high 30 points to go with nine rebounds to lead the Panthers. Jeremiah Bell hit some tough shots en route to 16 points for the Panthers, who lost despite shooting 53.5 percent and outrebounding the Flames 32-27, including 10-3 on the offensive end.
“Unfortunately, somebody has to lose,” Jordan said. “I give their guys a ton of credit. Coach McClain has got a great young group and they made big plays.”
Matthews scored eight points, including a pair of 3-pointers, during a 13-5 run to put the Flames up 24-16 with 8:48 left in the first half.
Matthews finished the first half with 15 points and three 3s as the Flames led by as many as 10 in the opening stanza and took a 44-37 advantage into the locker room.
Just when it appeared Milwaukee was going to make a run early in the second half, Ferguson and Santos stepped up to score all 13 of the Flames’ points during a 13-5 spurt. Santos hit a pair of 3s and capped the blitz with a dunk to push UIC’s lead to 62-49 with 12:38 to play.
“K.J. is just getting more and more comfortable,” McClain said. “I think the only people that don’t know we’re coaching the youngest team in country is our own people. They’re playing their first Division I basketball and they’re growing and learning. The next step is being able to recover from a tough loss, which we had at Green Bay and come back and get a win.”
Bell knocked down a 3-pointer to pull the Panthers to within 74-68 with 5:58 to go before the Flames looked like they were going to slam the door.
Santos drilled a 3 on the ensuing possession, then Odiase turned away Bell’s layup, leading to Matthews scoring a layup in transition for a 79-68 lead.
Kolawole converted a layup with 3:44 remaining for an 81-70 lead, but the Panthers had the resolve to make a final stand.
Kolawole knocked a pair of free throws with 46.1 seconds left for an 85-78 lead, but Bell drained a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession.
Matthews then missed the front end of a 1-and-1, leading to Stull hitting two more free throws that sliced the Panthers’ deficit to 85-83 with 16.7 ticks.
On the Flames’ next possession, Milwaukee trapped Ferguson, who tried to squeeze his way out of a double team. Despite the appearances of a foul against the Panthers, Stull came away with a steal.
Stull drove the ball to the basket, plowing into Santos, but the officials called a blocking foul on Santos.
“It’s pretty hard to win on the road with the refs and the hostile environments, so you’ve got to play hard to get the W,” Ferguson said.
Stull made both free throws with 8.1 seconds left as the Panthers closed regulation with a 15-4 run that included 10 points from Stull, thus the Flames had some more hard work to do.
Matthews had a chance to win it for UIC in regulation, but his 3-pointer was off the mark.
“We’re built for that,” McClain said of his team being ready for the overtime. “Like I tell our guys, ‘That’s the summer. That’s the work you put in.’ We just played as hard as we could. Those things happen. Our guys are battling along. I’m really proud of them. Anytime you got a road win, that’s big.”
FLAMES FLICKERS: The Flames’ 15 3-pointers were just two shy of a school record. UIC had 17 each against Butler (Jan. 14, 1995) and Northern Illinois (Feb. 8, 1996) during the Bob Hallberg era. … Freshmen scored 75 of the 105 points for the Flames. … UIC started out hot from the field in the first half, knocking down 54.8 percent. The Flames just got hotter after that, shooting 65.2 percent in the second half and 80 percent in overtime. … The 105 points were the most for the Flames away from the Pavilion since March 2, 1996 when UIC upset Butler 107-97 in the MCC Tournament at Wright State. … The last three 100-plus efforts against Division I competition all came against Milwaukee, including a 112-106 four-overtime win over Bo Ryan’s Panthers on Jan. 11, 2001 and a 102-92 victory on Jan. 9, 2003. … UIC is now 2-1 in OT games this season, including 2-0 on the road. The Flames are also 3-0 all-time against Milwaukee in OT games, including the 4-OT game at the Pavilion in 2001 and a 94-86 win at UWM Panther Arena on Feb. 15, 2006. … UIC’s three Horizon League road wins are the most since the 2008-09 season when the Flames had four. … UIC improved to 4-5 in true road games after going 0-13 last season. … The Flames swept the season series from Milwaukee for the first time since 2007-08 and it was the first Horizon season sweep under McClain. … Freshman guard Godwin Boahen, who has been limited in practice recently, gutted out eight points and four assists in 21 minutes. … UIC Freshman point guard Marcus Ottey recently had the cast removed from his left wrist and has been practicing in non-contact drills. A possibility exists he could return Thursday against Youngstown State.