True road warriors
Late surge helps UIC win 7th straight away from home
By Mike Pankow
February 18, 2018
The Flames went on an emphatic 15-0 run, completing a comeback from down 12 points, to defeat Green Bay 83-75 at the Kress Center, winning their seventh straight on the road and snapping a 13-game losing streak in Green Bay.
As he has been for a large portion of the team’s recent 11-2 run in 2018, sophomore Jordan Blount was huge spark. The Cork, Ireland, native, scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half, grabbed a career-high 15 rebounds and provided the necessary extra energy to pace the Flames (16-12, 11-4), who pulled to within one game of first place in the Horizon League.
“I think everybody’s been waiting for Jordan to get back to playing well,” UIC coach Steve McClain said. “He would tell you he hasn’t as good here lately. He did a good job and handled the ball. He was a tough matchup for (Green Bay) and we took advantage of it.”
Sophomore forward Dikembe Dixson, who scored five points during the pivotal run, scored a team-high 18 points for UIC, which hadn’t won in Green Bay since 2004. Senior center Tai Odiase played an efficient inside game with 14 points on 7-for-11 shooting, nine rebounds and four blocked shots. Sophomore point guard Tarkus Ferguson scored eight points to go with 12 rebounds, four assists, three blocks and three steals.
Sandy Cohen III scored a game-high 25 points for the Phoenix (10-19, 5-11), who shot just 38.2 percent in the second half and only 9-for-22 from the free-throw line.
Down by 12 late in the first half as by as much as eight early in the second half, UIC came alive behind Blount, who had five points and an assist during a 14-5 run that gave the Flames a 53-52 lead with 12:42 left. Dixson found Clint Robinson with a great interior feed that led to a dunk for a go-ahead score.
“We knew we started off slow in the first half,” Blount said. “I knew the energy that I can bring to the game could have got us back. I came out with that extra bit of oomph and it got us back to the intensity we like to play at.”
After Green Bay surged back ahead 62-58 on P.J. Pipes’ 3-pointer, the Flames came roaring back.
Dominique Matthews hit a transition layup following an Odiase block and Dixson hit a floater to tie the game at 62-62, then came the game’s most pivotal moment.
Dixson hit a streaking Michael Diggins, who rose up for a layup and was grabbed around the waist by Cohen, who was called for an intentional foul for not playing the ball with 7:03 left. That gave Diggins two free throws and the Flames retained the ball. Moments later, Marcus Ottey scored on a layup on what became a six-point possession.
“That was the big play of the game,” McClain said. “We pretty much had control from that point.”
Green Bay got only as close as six in the final minutes as the Flames closed out their seventh straight victory away from the UIC Pavilion – an incredible accomplishment given UIC lost their first seven road tilts of the season, some of which came in spectacularly ugly fashion.
“I think we’re getting tougher,” McClain said. “They know the game is never over. Our guys really thrive in a (hostile) environment.
“I thought it was a really gutty out of our team on the road coming off a tough home loss (to Cleveland State). This team has had great resolve on the road and I knew we’d get their best shot, playing in this building with big crowd on Senior Night.”
Green Bay did give UIC a good shot early. The Flames struggled to hit shots early and the Phoenix took advantage. Kam Hankerson hit a pair of 3-pointers during a 9-0 run that gave Green Bay a 31-19 lead. At that point, UIC was shooting just 7-for-29 (24.1 percent).
“We got shooters, so we knew if we kept on doing what we were supposed to be doing, those shots would start to fall,” Blount said.
The Flames kept fighting, as evidenced by their dominating presence on the boards. UIC grabbed a season-high 60 rebounds to 42 for Green Bay.
The Flames pulled to within 38-34 at the half after Ottey’s last-second layup. The shots did finally start to fall as UIC shot 52.8 percent in the second half while finishing up at 43.2 percent for the game.
“We fought back, we got the game right at halftime,” McClain said. “In the second half, even when it wasn’t going our way, we kept our mind right and had some really big play out of a lot of different guys. It wasn’t about our offense. If we guarded, we were going to score.”
The victory puts the Flames in the conversion for a Horizon League title with three home games to close out the regular season, including contests with co-leaders Northern Kentucky and Wright State.
McClain had a plea for the UIC fanbase: “We’ve got as a big week coming up here as maybe for UIC basketball in the last 15 years. I sure hope our fans decide to come out for three games this week.”
As for dreams of the conference championship, Blount said the Flames are keeping things simple.
“We’re just taking things one game at a time. Every game we’re just trying to get to 1-0.”
FLAMES FLICKERS: Friday night’s victory was UIC’s first in Green Bay since the 2003-04 season when the Flames beat the Phoenix 63-55 behind Cedrick Banks’ 18 points and eight rebounds. The Flames had lost 13 straight at the Resch Center. However, Friday’s game was at Kress Center on the UWGB campus because Disney on Ice was booked at Resch. … The Flames played nine players and all of them scored at least three points. … Blount (15), Ferguson (12) and Diggins (7) all had career highs in rebounds. … After having just one assist on 13 baskets in the first half, the Flames had nine on 19 buckets in the second. … UIC’s 7-2 road mark in conference play was its best ever since joining the Horizon League (f.k.a. MCC) in the 1994-95 season. The last time the Flames went 7-2 on the road in league play was their final season in the Mid-Continent Conference (now Summit League) in 1993-94 when they were also 7-2. … Green Bay senior Khalil Smith, who scored 27 points in the first meeting at the Pavilion, was held to 10 points on 4-for-13 shooting while being saddled with foul trouble.