Odiase, Matthews lead UIC upset of Green Bay
By Mike Pankow
March 6, 2017
UIC continued that trend during "Motor City Madness" as the No. 6 seed Flames stunned third-seeded Green Bay 79-70 on Sunday night after dominating most of the second half at Joe Louis Arena.
The Flames (15-17), who nearly added a new twist to the madness in letting a 17-point lead get cut down to two in a matter of three minutes late in the game before sealing the win from the free-throw line, will play No. 10 Milwaukee in Monday's second semifinal.
Junior center Tai Odiase had 16 points, eight rebounds and five blocks and redshirt freshman Dominique Matthews added 16 points, including 14 after halftime, to lead UIC, which advances to the semifinals for the second time in three years.
Freshman guard Marcus Ottey added 15 points, including some key free throws in the final minute, and classmate Tarkus Ferguson contributed 12 points, 10 rebounds and five assists as the young Flames snapped a 10-game losing streak against veteran Green Bay, which won the Horizon League tournament last year.
"We have great respect for Green Bay," UIC coach Steve McClain said. "Our guys knew what we were facing. They're the oldest team in the league and they came in here a year ago and won it. I give the kids all the credit. For a young team, they stayed with it."
Kerem Kanter, brother of the NBA's Enes Kanter, had 19 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Phoenix (18-13), who likely will be relegated to playing in a smaller postseason tournament. Charles Cooper had 15 points, but he shot just 6-for-18.
The Flames appeared to be coasting after freshman K.J. Santos hit a pair of free throws with 3:53 left to give UIC a 70-53 lead.
Somehow, UIC, which had just five turnovers in the first 35 minutes, couldn't handle the Phoenix's pressure. Green Bay had seven takeaways as it went on a 17-2 run to close to 72-70 with 1:08 left. Jamar Hurdle hit three 3-pointers and Charles Cooper scored six points during the blitz.
"We should've started (to comeback) sooner," Kanter said. "For a team that has six seniors and three juniors, we let them have their run."
The Flames, however, righted themselves in the nick of time. Matthews made a pair of free throws with 1:05 left as UIC made seven of 10 from the foul line to close out the game and forced the Phoenix to miss their final five shots.
"We've been in big games all year long," Matthews said. "We have confidence. The older guys, me and Tai talk to them. We help keep everybody together and keep our composure."
Despite the Phoenix's previous dominance of the series, the two teams played two competitive games this season. UIC led both contests by at least nine points before Green Bay rallied each time.
"I still think anybody can win this if you get hot at the right time," Green Bay coach Linc Darner said. "Both times we played UIC, they had us down. It's not like we controlled the game. People don't understand how good UIC is."
It was a nip-and-tuck affair for most of the first half until Green Bay went on a 15-4 run to take a 26-18 lead with 6:04 left before halftime.
However, Odiase and Ferguson spurred a 10-0 run that the Flames right back in the swing of things. Ferguson had a pair of steals and a layup and Odiase scored a pair of close-in baskets along with two blocks. Ottey finished the burst with a fastbreak layup for a 28-26 Flames lead.
Ferguson's leaner in the lane with 32.3 seconds left in the half gave UIC a 35-34 edge at the half.
Matthews was pivotal in the final 20 minutes, hitting a 3-pointer and assisting on Ferguson's 3 on the first two possessions of the second half to help the Flames push their lead to seven.
Warren Jones, who killed the Flames during the regular season but was held to four points, made two of three free throws with 13:05 left to pull the Phoenix to within 51-50.
But then it was the Matthews' show again as the St. Rita product hit a 3-pointer a minute later and followed with a floater to begin a huge run for UIC.
"I was in foul trouble in a little bit in the beginning," Matthews said. "I got going because Tark [Ferguson] did a great job finding me."
The Phoenix went nearly eight minutes without scoring and Matthews racked up nine points during the Flames' run of 15 straight points to extend the lead to 66-50 with 5:19 left.
"I was hoping all the luck hadn't been used up," McClain said. "I think our guys knew, with our previous games against Green Bay, they had an opportunity."
In a tournament chock full of surprises, nothing is guaranteed against Milwaukee, whom the Flames defeated twice in the regular season. The Panthers (9-23) wiped out No. 2 seed Valparaiso on Saturday night and, like the Flames, stand two wins away from an improbable NCAA tournament bid.
"We've got to do what do for every other game," Odiase said. "Come in confident and prepare ourselves again."
Darner is a believer in the Flames.
"They've got good size, they block a lot of shots," he said. "They affect you going to the hoop. They get after you. We knew this was going to be a tough matchup. They've got a chance to win it all."
FLAMES FLICKERS: UIC is the healthiest it has been in awhile and that culminated in freshman Godwin Boahen's return from a pair of lower-body ailments. The Canadian guard made the start and scored nine points in 25 minutes. Boahen did appear to be laboring late in the game. ... The Flames were losing the rebounding battle by double digits for most of the game before coming on late during their big scoring run to even the final ledger on the boards at 49-49. ... UIC didn't hit a field goal in the final 7:21, but made 14 of the last 18 free throws. ... The Flames improved to 2-4 against Green Bay all-time in postseason conference tournament play, including Mid-Continent Conference games. The two teams last faced off in postseason when the Phoenix beat UIC 70-56 in the 2015 Horizon League semifinals at Valparaiso after the Flames led by two at the half. That was Howard Moore's final game as UIC coach. The only other Flames win came in the 1993 Mid-Con tourney.