Whoosh! Net News

Pivotal victory

Flames pull out road win, move into 3rd place

February 12, 2019

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Marcus Ottey scored a team-high 13 points Saturday against IUPUI.

A first-half surge along with a clutch basket and key defensive stops in the final minute helped UIC secure arguably its most important victory of the season on Saturday afternoon.

A few weeks ago, the Flames were mired on the lower end of a pack of middling teams in the Horizon League, but they pulled off their third straight victory against a top contender with a 76-75 road victory over IUPUI at Indiana Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis.

Marcus Ottey scored on a layup off a turnover with 26.3 seconds left and UIC made two defensive stops in the final seconds to hold on for the pivotal victory.

The Flames (13-12, 7-5) stand in third place, just behind Northern Kentucky and Wright State, two teams which they defeated last weekend in Chicago. UIC is a combined 3-1 against the Norse and Raiders and with Saturday's victory, it evened the season series with the Jaguars (14-11, 6-6) and passed them in the standings.

A conference title now is still in reach with some of the tiebreakers in UIC's favor and four very winnable games on tap over the next couple of weeks.

The obvious game plan was to muzzle Camron Justice, who torched the Flames for 30 points in IUPUI's 66-64 victory at Credit Union 1 Arena on Jan. 4. And UIC's defense got the job done in that department, swarming the senior guard and limiting him to six points (all in the first half) on 2-for-10 shooting. It snapped a 23-game double-figure scoring streak for Justice.

"Our bigs did a better job in this game of helping on him, giving our guards some support," UIC coach Steve McClain said. "He couldn't just walk into easy shots. He's a very good player and we knew had to do a great job on him."

It got a little scary in the end, though, as the Flames surrendered all of an 18-point, second-half lead, but Ferguson poked the ball away from Justice and Ottey streaked down the court for the go-ahead layup for a one-point lead.

IUPUI had the final possession and went to Justice, who was missed a shot under duress in the final 10 seconds. The Flames had a chance to corral the loose ball, but Michael Diggins couldn't quite get there with 3.3 seconds left. The Jaguars tried to inbound the ball to 7-1 center Ahmed Ismail, but he missed a short jumper on the left block as time expired.

"We continue to talk about how good we can be defensively," McClain said. "Right there at the end, it was just about getting one stop. Not only did we get one, we got two or three in a row."

UIC got off to a strong start, pulling away from a tight game midway through the first half. Tarkus Ferguson scored nine points in a 58-second stretch of the first half, turning a one-point deficit into a 21-13 Flames lead.

The Flames hit 8 of 13 3-point attempts in the first 20 minutes as they surged to a 50-36 halftime lead.

"I give our kids credit because (early) games are about energy and about coming out ready and I thought they came out ready," McClain said.

The Flames extended their lead to 61-43 on Jamie Ahale's 3-pointer with 13:18 left before the Jaguars made a spirited comeback, aided by an occasional trap which gave UIC some fits.

UIC weathered that storm and built the lead back to 72-62 on Diggins' jumper in the paint with 6:57 left.

IUPUI counterattacked one more time, tying the game at 74-74 on Evan Hall's putback with 2:01 remaining.

Ismail split a pair of free throws with 1:20 for IUPUI's first lead since early in the first half at 75-74 to set up the frenetic final minute.

The Flames displayed great balance offensively while shooting 50 percent from the field, including 10-for-21 on 3-pointers. Ottey led UIC with 13 points while Ferguson and Diggins each scored 12, Ahale and Rob Howard each netted 11 and Godwin Boahen added nine.

"That's when we're ready hard to guard is when you can't pick who you're going to guard," McClain said. "I thought in the first half the ball really moved. We got a little stagnant at times in the second half, but overall, it was a really good team effort."

FLAMES FLICKERS: Jordan Blount contributed six points and three blocked shots while assisting UIC's strong defensive effort. ... IUPUI shot just 39.7 percent from the field and 6-for-21 from 3-point range. ... Howard also recorded three blocked shots as UIC finished with nine, just one of its season high, which came against IUPUI on Jan. 4. ... After committing just four turnovers in the first half, the Flames made 11 in the second half as the pressure was turned up. ... The Flames finish their three-game road trip with stops against Cleveland State (Thursday) and Youngstown State (Saturday). ... Ferguson was coming off being named Horizon League player of the week. It was UIC's first such honor this season. He averaged 19.0 points, 7.0 rebounds and 6.5 assists in victories over Northern Kentucky and Wright State. ... Jaylen Minnett led IUPUI with a game-high 20 points, including four 3-pointers.

POSTGAME VIDEOS (courtesy UIC Flames on YouTube):

In other recent news:
UIC 69, Northern Kentucky 67: All Hail, Ahale! (2/4/19)
UIC 67, Wright State 53: Going splat (2/2/19)
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)