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Bittersweet ending

Flames’ promising season closes with loss in CBI semis

By Mike Pankow

March 23, 2017

Mike Pankow/Whoosh! file photo

UIC’s Tarkus Ferguson scored a career-high 27 points Wednesday night against Coastal Carolina.

The roller coaster ride otherwise known as the 2016-17 UIC Flames season came to a close Wednesday night.

The youngest team in the nation fell three victories shy of the first postseason championship in school history as the Flames fell to Coastal Carolina 89-78 in the College Basketball Invitational semifinal in Conway, S.C.

The up-and-down Flames (17-19) won two national postseason games in the same season for the first time and improved by 12 wins over last season’s 5-25 mark, showing signs for a great future.

“As you build a program, you can’t skip the steps,” UIC coach Steve McClain said Monday after the win over George Washington. “You still have to go through the process. This is a step for this program, a really big step for this young team.”

One of the linchpins for that future is freshman guard Tarkus Ferguson, who capped his season with a career-high 27 points. Ferguson had one of the best stretches of his young tenure at UIC, racking up double figures in assists in the Flames’ first two contests during this CBI tournament before his scoring outburst against the Chanticleers. Ferguson also had a team-high seven rebounds, four assists and four steals.

Unfortunately for the Flames, 23 turnovers and a deficiency in cleaning up defensive rounds was the death knell to a promising campaign.

Jaylen Shaw scored 22 points and Demario Beck contributed 18 points and a game-high 10 rebounds for the Chanticleers (19-17), who advanced to the Best-of-3 CBI Championship Series against Wyoming next week.

Five players scored in double figures for Coastal Carolina, who controlled the boards over UIC 41-29, including 16-9 on the offensive end. The Chanticleers won the game with 24 points off turnovers and 22 second-chance points.

The only lead the Flames had was 2-0 on a Tai Odiase shot 30 seconds into the game.

UIC hung around, trailing 36-29 at the half, but Coastal Carolina finally took control from the weary Flames in the second half.

Ferguson hit back-to-back layups to cap a 7-0 run to pull UIC to within 39-36 with 17:44 left, but it was downhill after that.

Elijah Wilson drilled a 3-pointer to extend the Chanticleers’ lead to 64-48 with 9:49 to go. UIC’s Godwin Boahen responded with a trey of his own to cut it back to 13.

Artur Labinowicz dunked to finish an 8-0 run as Coastal Carolina stretched the lead to a game-high 21 at 72-51 with 7:10 remaining.

Ferguson, who committed seven turnovers, tried to put UIC on his back offensively, scoring 16 points in the final seven minutes. The Flames only got as close as nine on Ferguson’s triple with 52 seconds left.

Two other freshmen hit double figures for UIC as Marcus Ottey scored 11 points and Dominique Matthews added 10. Junior center Odiase also scored 10 for the Flames, who shot 50 percent from the field.

Despite the disappointing loss, the CBI run will be beneficial to the Flames and hopefully a start to playing basketball deep into March.

“This a new experience for them,” McClain said Monday. “This program has been home on spring break for a long time. They’ll know from now on, don’t make any plans.”

FLAMES FLICKERS: After appearance to tweak his ankle late against George Washington on Monday, freshman forward K.J. Santos was good to go Wednesday. He finished with eight points and four rebounds in 24 minutes. … Ferguson's 177 assists on the campaign was sixth on UIC’s all-time single-season list. He averaged 13.7 points, 8.0 rebounds and 8.7 assists in the CBI. … Matthews led the Flames with 15.3 points per game during the three games in the CBI. … UIC hit 11 3-pointers, including eight in the second half. It was the eighth time this season the Flames reach double-digits in 3-pointers. … The Flames are now 3-6 all-time in national postseason play, including 0-3 in true road games, which includes losses at Western Michigan (2003 NIT) and Northern Iowa (2013 CIT). … Wednesday was the first-ever meeting between the two schools. … UIC played 36 games this season, a program record.

In other recent news:
CBI: UIC 80, George Washington 71: A big helping hand (3/21/17)
CBI: UIC 71, Stony Brook 69: Fire and fury (3/17/17)
CBI PREVIEW: Forward march (3/16/17)
Surprise party: UIC gets CBI bid (3/14/17)
HORIZON TOURNEY: Milwaukee 74, UIC 68: Underdog ends Flames’ run (3/7/17)
HORIZON TOURNEY: UIC 79, Green Bay 70: It’s madness (3/6/17)
HORIZON AWARDS: Flames collect hardware (3/2/17)
Ferguson caps Flames’ 4-pack (3/1/17)
Wright State 87, UIC 49: Stinging defeat (2/27/17)
Northern Kentucky 90, UIC 82: Career night turns sour (2/25/17)
Green Bay 87, UIC 79: Veterans’ night (2/22/17)