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VanderMeer lifts UIC to No. 4 seed

FLAMES STEAL CRITICAL ROAD WIN

March 2, 2008

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Scott VanderMeer tallied 17 points and 13 rebounds to help carry the Flames to a victory at Milwaukee on Saturday night.

MILWAUKEE—After UIC’s loss to Green Bay on Thursday, chances of hosting a game in the opening round of the Horizon League tournament appeared bleak.

On Saturday, things started to look up for the Flames as 7-foot junior center Scott VanderMeer used his size advantage to help UIC defeat Milwaukee 63-55 at U.S. Cellular Arena.

With the win, the Flames (16-14, 9-9 Horizon League) claimed the No. 4 seed as they held an advantage over Milwaukee (14-15, 9-9), Valparaiso and Green Bay on a four-way tiebreaker for fourth place. UIC had a 4-2 record against the other three teams.

UIC will host No. 9 seed Youngstown State at the Pavilion on Tuesday night.

“[This win] gives us a lot of satisfaction,” UIC coach Jimmy Collins said. “We love our home crowd. These guys love our home court. Hopefully we can continue this momentum from this game.”

VanderMeer scored 17 points on 7-for-8 shooting, often making it look easy against the defense of 6-foot-7-inch Paige Paulsen and 6-6 Jason Averkamp.

VanderMeer bounced back well from a 4-for-11 performance in a three-point loss at Green Bay.

“The coaches have been telling me to take my time,” VanderMeer said. “I missed a lot of shots against Green Bay. It was all about me taking my time and getting [the shots] down.”

“We wanted to keep Scott going,” Collins added. “We didn’t even talk about what happened in Green Bay. He does a lot of good things in practice. We wanted to continue to ride Scott’s back, because the way to the basket is through the post.”

VanderMeer also grabbed 13 rebounds for his sixth double-double of the season.

“He’s a big body, you don’t see a lot of those in the Horizon League,” said Paulsen, who is more comfortable playing the small forward. “When you got up against him, it’s an adjustment you’ve got to make. He’s a nice asset for UIC to have.”

Karl White Jr. contributed 14 points and Josh Mayo, the Flames’ top scorer for the season, added 12, but VanderMeer caused the most havoc.

“I thought we did a really good job of containing Mayo,” Milwaukee coach Rob Jeter said. “You’ve got to pick your poison when you look at Mayo, who is one of the top guards in the league, and VanderMeer, who is the biggest guy in the league. We tried a lot of different guys on [VanderMeer] and we just ran out of bodies.”

VanderMeer had 10 points in what was a sluggish first half for both teams. UIC led 22-18 after a VanderMeer hook shot with 7:39 to play in the first half. The Flames didn’t score again in the period until Josh Mayo hit two free throws with 2.3 seconds before halftime to forge at 24-24 tie.

UIC started to pull away early in the second half with a 9-1 run that included two more VanderMeer buckets to give the Flames a 33-25 lead with 15:39 remaining.

At that point a storm was brewing in the arena as fans began to voice their displeasure in the officials’ no-calls and fouls against Milwaukee.

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Karl White Jr. scored all 14 of his points in the second half, including eight straight, to give the Flames the lead for good.

Perhaps using the crowd’s venom as motivation, the Panthers crawled back with an 8-0 run of their own to knot the score at 33-33 after a Charlie Swiggett layup. Milwaukee eventually took the lead at 36-34 on a free throw by Averkamp.

Enter White, a senior who had not scored to that point of the game. White hit a driving layup to tie the game, then connected on two free throws for a 38-36 UIC edge.

White capped his personal 8-0 run with a 17-foot jumper, giving the Flames a 42-36 lead with 6:38 to play.

“We were talking at halftime about how they were outscrapping us and getting a lot of loose balls,” White said. “Coach [Collins] told me that he wanted me to bring a lot more energy when I got back in there.”

UIC grabbed a 49-40 advantage with 5 minutes left, but the Panthers made one last run, pulling within 49-47 on a floater by Kaylan Anderson with 2:33 left. However, Mayo beat the press back down the floor for a layup and a four-point edge.

After Spencer Stewart missed two free throws, the Panthers had a chance to close the gap, but Averkamp was called for an offensive foul with 1:14 remaining. The crowd erupted in boos and Jeter was furious on the sideline.

Official Bruce Benedict warned Jeter, and then turned his back. Seconds later, another official whistled Jeter for a technical foul. Mayo made one of the two technical foul shots and Tori Boyd added two free throws for a seven-point lead with 1:11 to go.

Deion James hit a three to close the deficit to 56-52 with 47.6 seconds to play, but UIC went 7-for-8 from the free-throw line to close out the Panthers.

“There’s a lot of stuff we’ve been battling,” said Jeter, who chose his words carefully at the postgame press conference. “My guys fought to the end, that’s what I’m most proud of.”

Neither team scorched the nets as UIC shot 38 percent and Milwaukee 31 percent. The Panthers attempted 30 three-pointers against the Flames’ 2-3 zone defense and made just seven.

UIC was aggressive after forcing Milwaukee turnovers, collecting 20 points off 15 miscues, while the Panthers scored just five off 11 Flames’ turnovers.

“It was a good spring-back for us,” Collins said. “We knew the Panthers were going to be tough. The thing we had to do is come in here on a positive note. We knew we had to play harder and better than we did at Green Bay.”

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Milwaukee coach Rob Jeter chose not to speak about the officiating after the game.

OFFICIALLY NUTS: Jeter was befuddled about drawing a technical with 1:14 to play after receiving a warning.

“I don’t know why I got a warning,” Jeter said. “They just T’d me up.

“I’ve got a game to coach on Tuesday and I want to make sure I coach that game, so I’m going to leave it at that,” added the Milwaukee coach, referring to the Panthers’ home tournament game against Loyola.

Meanwhile, the mostly-partisan crowd of 3,425 bemoaned the foul discrepancy of 26-14 against the home team, chanting “Worst refs ever,” “Read a rule book,” and “Three blind mice” among other things, including expletives.

Benedict, the lead official of the crew that included Jeb Hartness and Jason Baker, was perturbed when the Milwaukee pep band began playing the “Imperial March” from the Star Wars movies after Panthers’ fouls in the second half, further inciting the crowd.

UIC was 28-for-39 at the free-throw line, while Milwaukee was 12-for-16.

FLAMES FLICKERS: The Flames have now won four straight against Milwaukee, including a victory in the opening round of the Horizon League tournament last year. The victory marked the first time UIC has swept the regular-season series from the Panthers since 1998—the year the Flames first made the NCAA tournament. …

In an unusual tactic, Collins subbed out all of his starters with 15:33 left in the first half as the second unit of White, Boyd Robert Kreps, Jeremy Buttell and Jovan Ignjatovic trotted in. Then Collins put all of the starters back in at the 12:09 mark, prompting Milwaukee’s public address announcer to quip: “In for the Flames, five new guys.” …

Mayo hit double figures for the 25th straight game—the longest current stretch in the Horizon League. He also now has 1,172 career points, 59 points behind Nate Chambers (1984-88) for 12th place on UIC’s all-time list. …

VanderMeer recorded three blocked shots in the game. He now has 191 for his career, ranking 5th all-time on the Horizon League list. …

The Horizon League awards will be announced on Monday. Mayo and VanderMeer are the most likely bets to receive honors. Expect Mayo to be First-Team All-Horizon and VanderMeer to make the All-Defensive Team. For the first time, the league will have Defensive Player of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year honors, which are voted on by the coaches.

UP NEXT: The Flames welcome Youngstown State to the UIC Pavilion for the opening round of the Horizon League tournament on Tuesday night.

The Penguins wrapped up the regular season at 9-20 overall and 5-13 in the conference after a 65-58 loss to visiting Cleveland State on Saturday. YSU is just 3-13 in their last 16 games.

The teams split the series in the regular season as the Penguins won 80-68 in Youngstown and the Flames earned an 86-72 win in Chicago. UIC holds a commanding 17-2 advantage in the all-time series. The Flames won the only postseason matchup between the two in 2003 when UIC took a 79-59 victory in Milwaukee in the quarterfinal round of the Horizon League tournament.

Seniors Byron Davis and John Barber lead the Penguins, averaging 15.3 and 13.6 points, respectively. Freshman guard Vytas Sulskis chips in 9.1 points per game, but he is averaging 22.0 points against the Flames this season.

UIC owns the second-best home record in the Horizon at 11-2, while YSU is 2-13 on the road.

The game tips off at 7 p.m. on Tuesday at the Pavilion with video streaming available on the Horizon League Network and the radio broadcast with Adam Levinson and Kenny McReynolds on WIND-AM 560.

2008 HORIZON LEAGUE TOURNAMENT

TUESDAY, MARCH 4 FIRST ROUND

#10 Detroit (7-22, 3-15) at #3 Wright State (20-9, 12-6), 6

#7 Green Bay (15-14, 9-9) at #6 Valparaiso (19-12, 9-9), 7

#9 Youngstown State (9-20, 5-13) at #4 UIC (16-14, 9-9), 7

#8 Loyola (11-18, 6-12) at #5 Milwaukee (14-15, 9-9), 7

FRIDAY, MARCH 7 SECOND ROUND (at Butler)

Detroit/WSU vs. Green Bay/Valpo, 5

YSU/UIC vs. Loyola/Milwaukee, 7

SATURDAY, MARCH 8 SEMIFINALS (at Butler)

Detroit/WSU/Green Bay/Valpo vs. #2 Cleveland State (20-11, 12-6), 3:30

YSU/UIC vs. Loyola/Milwaukee vs. #1 Butler (27-3, 16-2), 5:30

TUESDAY, MARCH 11 CHAMPIONSHIP

At highest remaining seed, 8

All times Central

In other recent news:
UIC's last-second loss puts home game in peril (at Green Bay) (2/29/08)
Bush leads Flames' balanced attack (at N. Iowa) (2/24/08)
Three spree helps Butler escape UIC (2/21/08)
Raiders steal victory from Flames (at Wight State) (2/17/08)
Bad night for Flames, Goode for Titans (at Detroit) (2/15/08)
Stewart helps put Flames in cruise control (vs. Valpo) (2/12/08)
Flames heating up, finish up sweep of Ramblers (2/10/08)
Hoops still close to Granderson's heart (plus Loyola preview) (2/8/08)
Flames get paired with Northern Iowa for BracketBuster (2/5/08)
Another efficient game for Mayo (vs. YSU) (2/3/08)