Senior-laden Phoenix finally get best of UIC’s kids
By Mike Pankow
February 22, 2017
Sure, the visiting Phoenix used a couple of big second-half runs to finish a regular-season sweep of UIC with an 87-79 victory in the Flames' final home game, but holding sizable leads in both matchups and competing with them most of the way could bode well.
It was a possible preview of a quarterfinal matchup in next week's Horizon League tournament, the Phoenix and the Flames.
“I like that matchup and our guys would like that,” McClain said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re playing Oakland, Green Bay or Youngstown State, you’ve got to show up and go. I know we’ll head to Detroit with the right mindset.”
Despite being the second youngest team in the NCAA, UIC also gave Green Bay a scare on Feb. 2. The Phoenix escaped with an 84-80 win at the Resch Center after UIC led by double digits in the second half.
Green Bay, the most experienced team in the Horizon League with six seniors on the roster, finally took down the young upstart Flames, who have no active seniors.
Two of those seniors, Warren Jones and Charles Cooper, teamed up to help the Phoenix (17-11, 11-5) take control of the second half. Jones (22 points) and Cooper (18 points) combined for 33 points in the final 20 minutes.
Down by seven at the half, Jones scored Green Bay’s first 15 points after the break, including four 3-pointers, to propel the Phoenix to a 46-45 lead with 16:41 left.
“When we gave Jones those open 3s, it kind of energized everybody for them,” McClain “That’s a credit to them. They’ve got six seniors on that team and we just played our last home game and didn’t have Senior Night.”
“Jones got one clean look in the first half. In the second half, he got too many clean looks. That’s just a point of guards have to be better defensively.”
After the Flames (14-15, 7-9) regrouped to take a 53-50 lead after a K.J. Santos’ 3-pointer, the Phoenix rattled off the next 15 points, including nine by Cooper, who finally got untracked after the Flames held him in check. By the end of that run, which was capped by Khalil Small’s dunk, Green Bay had 65-53 lead with 10:05 remaining.
UIC had an answer, countering with an 11-3 run, capped by Marcus Ottey’s crowd-awakening dunk and a 3-pointer, to pull the Flames to within 68-64 with 7:20 left.
“It looked like it might go to 20,” McClain said, “And we got it right back to four and we had the game where you want it.”
After a stop, UIC had an opportunity to get even closer, but freshman Dominique Matthews missed an ill-advised 3-pointer early in the shot clock and Green Bay’s Small made them pay with a trey on the other end for a seven-point lead with 6:18 left.
The Phoenix’s lead eventually ballooned back to 13 in the final minutes.
Junior center Tai Odiase had another strong effort of 16 points, 12 rebounds and six blocks to lead the Flames, who have two road games left before the Horizon League tournament.
UIC had four other players reach double figures – all freshmen. Matthews and Ottey each 13 points, but they combined for 9-for-28 shooting, which McClain attributed to tired legs and a short bench within a compact schedule in the final 10 days.
Tarkus Ferguson flirted with a triple-double for the second time this season, recording 11 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. Santos added 11 points, eight of which came in the first half.
“Kudos to them,” said Odiase of the freshmen. “They work every day when they come to practice. Even though it’s their first year in college, they’ve shown maturity beyond that and I’m proud of them.”
The Flames appeared ready to take control by closing the first half on an 18-5 run. It was a well-balanced attack that saw six different players score. Santos slammed home a Michael Kolawole miss with 46 seconds left in the first half for a nine-point lead.
Jamar Hurdle ended nearly a seven-minute field-goal drought for Green Bay with a tip-in with 26.5 ticks left as the Flames settled for a 38-31 halftime lead.
The Phoenix had led by as many as seven in the opening 20 minutes and was ahead 26-20 after Small's short jumper before UIC made its huge run.
“I’ve had the same mantra for this team all year, come out and try to be better, try to fight,” McClain said. “We’ve got to take care of the basketball. We did a good job tonight (only 13 turnovers). We’ve just got to continue to build on those things.”
FLAMES FLICKERS: Freshman guard Godwin Boahen (lower body) did not dress and was listed as day-to-day. McClain said he hopes Boahen will be completely healthy by the time the Horizon League tournament rolls around. … With the loss, UIC is officially locked into the No. 6 seed and will play the No. 3 seed in a quarterfinal game on Sunday, March 5 at Joe Louis Arena. ... The Flames failed to finish with their first winning record at home (8-8) since 2012-13 when they won 12 at the Pavilion. ... UIC struggled from 3-point range, shooting just 5-for-21 (23.8 percent) after shooting at a 43 percent clip over the previous six games. … Green Bay’s 57-50 rebounding advantage also turned the game into its favor. Cooper and Kerem Kanter each had 13 boards for the Phoenix.