Flames lose shot at HL top seed, Dixson intends to leave
By Mike Pankow
February 24, 2018
The Flames fell to Northern Kentucky 79-72 at the UIC Pavilion, ending their quest for a Horizon League regular season championship. And about an hour after the game, star sophomore forward Dikembe Dixson announced on social media that he intends to leave the team at season’s end.
UIC had a chance to secure the No. 1 seed for the Horizon League tournament in Detroit with two victories this weekend, but despite a hearty comeback from a 16-point deficit, those dreams vanished and the Flames will be the No. 3 seed in Detroit next weekend.
The more shocking news came from Dixson’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts where he said: “Tough loss tonight just wanted to let everyone know this Sunday will be my last home game at UIC because I’m deciding to take my talent elsewhere. Hope to have people support on my decision. Thanks.”
Dixson, who had 12 points on 3-for-13 shooting Friday night, leads the Flames in scoring at 14.1 points per game a year after having surgery for a torn ACL. He was the Horizon League Freshman of the Year in 2015-16 after averaging 19.8 points. He ranks 15th in school history with 1,218 points.
A source told uicflamesbasketball.com that it appears Dixson will entertain professional offers overseas.
As for the mission of the rest of this season, the Flames (17-13, 12-5) still have a shot to finish in a tie for second place in the Horizon with a victory over Wright State on Sunday evening.
UIC had good balance Friday, led by senior center Tai Odiase’s 14 points, nine rebounds and three blocks. Tarkus Ferguson contributed 11 points and five assists while Marcus Ottey and Godwin Boahen added 10 points apiece.
With 3,168 enthusiastic fans celebrating 90’s Night at the Pavilion, Lavone Holland II played the role of party crasher for the Norse (21-8, 14-3) with 25 points, six rebounds and three assists.
“I give respect to him,” Ottey said. “He’s a good player, he can shoot it, he can drive it and he’s pretty athletic. We needed to stay locked against him.”
The Flames and the Norse were neck-and-neck for most of the first half until NKU started to pull away when UIC went stone cold from the field.
After freshman Michael Diggins hit a 3-pointer to put UIC up 12-11 with 14:12 left in the half, the Flames missed 11 of 13 field-goal attempts during a 21-9 NKU run.
“We weren’t moving the ball in the first half,” UIC coach Steve McClain said. “I thought we adjusted at halftime, came out and got a good fight going.”
The Flames started the second half with a 14-2 to vault right back into the game. Ferguson scored five points and Jordan Blount and Ottey capped the burst with back-to-back layups off steals as UIC pulled to within 43-40 with 16:21 left.
NKU threatened again to put the game away, leading by as many as eight, before the Flames fought all the way back to tie it at 61-61 on Ottey’s layup with 5:54 remaining.
But the Norse, the defending Horizon League tournament champions, answered back on Drew McDonald’s 3-pointer moments after he returned following an inadvertent eye poke by Blount. Jordan Garnett hit another 3 after a Flames’ miss for a six-point lead.
The Flames pulled to within three at 69-66 on Ferguson’s layup with 2:02 left, but they could get no closer.
“We dug a hole and we fought back hard,” McClain said. “We just couldn’t come up with the play when we needed it and they made a couple of plays.
There were some positives to take out of the game, considering UIC lost by 35 the last time these two teams played on Dec. 30.
McDonald was limited eight points on 3-for-8 shooting as Blount smothered the Norse star forward for most of the game.
“Jordan is one of our best defenders and he’s pesky,” Odiase said. “We wanted to frustrate McDonald and it worked.”
Now the Flames will look to pick up the pieces against Wright State and in the upcoming Horizon tournament.
“We were disappointed that we gave this one up,” Odiase said. “We know that we’re still in a good situation. We still have all the pieces to make a run in that tournament.”
FLAMES FLICKERS: McClain on one of the best and most vocal crowds the Flames have had all season: “It was fun. I appreciate our marketing people. I appreciate the fact they worked really hard to get a great crowd in here. This team is fun to watch. I think they’re a fun team to be a part of. As you’re building a program, that’s what you’re trying to create is a homecourt, and we had one tonight.” … The Flames have lost four straight in the series to NKU with Friday’s game being the closest at seven points. … UIC will have one more shot for its 13th conference victory of the season, which would be its most since the Flames set the school record with 14 in the 1993-94 season. … Boahen has hit at least one 3-pointer in each of his last 12 games. … In addition to blanketing McDonald, Blount had six points, five rebounds and three steals before fouling out late in the game. … After the game, Odiase and classmate Clint Robinson took to the floor with Odiase speaking to the crowd, encouraging them to attend the “Senior Day” on Sunday.