Whoosh! Net News

Sharing the wealth

Balanced Flames win CIT opener with ease

By Mike Pankow

March 16, 2018

Rudi Ayasse/UIC Athletics

UIC’s Tarkus Ferguson launches a 3-pointer during the first half over Saint Francis’ Keith Braxton.

UIC had a glaring omission when it took the court Wednesday night.

Despite redshirt sophomore forward and leading scorer Dikembe Dixson leaving the team, the Flames didn’t miss a beat as six players scored in double figures and the team racked up 22 assists in 33 field goals in an 84-61 victory over Saint Francis (Pa.) 84-61 in the first round of the College Insider Tournament.

The Flames (18-15) pulled away from a 35-29 halftime lead by shooting 20-for-30 (66.7 percent) in the second half. Their performance was reminiscent of how they played during a 12-2 run during Horizon League play.

“The ball just kept moving,” UIC coach Steve McClain told reporters after the game. “It kept finding the open guy. When we went on that run in conference play, that’s how that ball was moving. When we play that way, we’re really hard to defend.

Reserve center Clint Robinson led the way with a career-high 15 points. Sophomore point guard Tarkus Ferguson had a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds while classmate Godwin Boahen flirted with a double-double with 12 points and a season-high nine assists.

Senior center Tai Odiase kept making history, as he moved into a tie for 39th place all-time in NCAA history in blocked shots with 347. He swatted away six, surpassing NBA legends David Robinson and Dikembe Mutombo, to go with 12 points and eight rebounds.

“It hasn’t really hit me yet,” Odiase said. “That’s a great feeling. I didn’t come into UIC thinking that I was going to be the next Dikembe Mutombo or have more blocks than him, but it’s a great feeling.”

Ferguson and Boahen hit 3-pointers in the early going to help UIC open a 12-7 lead, but the Red Flash (18-13) kept plugging away.

After 3-pointer by Jordan Blount (11 points, eight rebounds, three steals) put the Flames up 23-16 with 8:12 left in the first half, Andre Wolford (19 points) scored the next five points in a 7-0 Saint Francis that tied the game at 23-23.

Ferguson answered with a 3 and Robinson scored four points as UIC opened a 30-23 advantage.

Keith Braxton hit a free throw to close the Red Flash to within 30-29, but Boahen found Robinson for a monster dunk and then hit Ferguson with 3-pointer just before the buzzer as the Flames took the momentum in the locker room with a 35-29 lead.

Rudi Ayasse/UIC Athletics

UIC’s Marcus Ottey drives between Saint Francis’ Andre Wolford, left, and Jamaal King, during the second half.

The Flames then turned up the afterburners. Marcus Ottey (11 points) converted an old-school three-point play to start a 12-2 run that was capped by back-to-back dunks by Ottey and Blount for a 49-33 lead with 15:09 left.

Freshman Michael Diggins scored eight straight points and Robinson converted a three-point play during an 11-0 burst that put the Flames up 64-37 and the rout was on.

On top of sharing the ball, the Flames were on point defensively, holding Saint Francis to nearly 20 points under its season average and limiting the Red Flash to 32.3 percent shooting.

UIC surely looked like it was on a mission after getting its season extended with the CIT invitation following three straight losses to end the regular season.

“Nobody likes losing at the Division I level,” Ferguson told reporters. “We just take that (mentality into the game) and play together and we’ll be fine.”

FLAMES FLICKERS: UIC made it look ridiculously easy at times, outscoring the Red Flash 44-16 in the paint, which included eight dunks. … The Flames shot 54.1 percent from the field and 41.7 percent (10-for-24) on 3-pointers. … Boahen hit four 3-pointers for the Flames and has hit at least one in each of his last 15 games. … All nine Flames who played scored, including late baskets by Dominique Matthews (layup) and Jacob Wiley (dunk). … UIC is now 3-0 against Saint Francis all-time with the last win coming in 1999 against Red Flash team that included Rob Krimmel, who is now Saint Francis’ coach. … The Flames improved to 4-6 overall in their seventh national postseason appearance. They are 2-1 all-time in the CIT following a win over Chicago State and a loss to Northern Iowa in the 2013 CIT. … The Flames are still awaiting the date and opponent of the next CIT game.

HIGHLIGHT VIDEO (courtesy UIC Flames on YouTube)

In other recent news:
Dixson makes it official: Off to the pros (3/16/18)
Season extended: Flames invited to CIT (3/13/18)
HORIZON TOURNEY: Milwaukee 80, UIC 75: Bitter taste (3/7/18)
HORIZON AWARDS: Odiase, Boahen honored (3/2/18)
Wright State 88, UIC 81: Learning experience (2/28/18)
Northern Kentucky 79, UIC 72: Double whammy (2/24/18)
UIC 94, Detroit Mercy 87: Rising up (2/21/18)
UIC 83, Green Bay 75: True road warriors (2/18/18)
Cleveland State 86, UIC 78: Unexpected speed bump (2/12/18)
UIC 100, Youngstown State 75: Deep impact (2/9/18)