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The defense doesn’t rest

Flames keep NCCU off balance in opener

By Mike Pankow

November 11, 2017

Mike Pankow/Whoosh!

UIC sophomore guard Godwin Boahen defends against North Carolina Central’s Pablo Rivas on Friday night.

With all of hype about UIC’s offensive ability, defense sometimes gets forgotten. Godwin Boahen doesn’t forget.

When quizzed about his 15-point effort in the Flames’ season-opening 65-55 victory over North Carolina Central at the UIC Pavilion on Friday night, the sophomore guard from Toronto, pointed out he does everything, but first mentioned his defensive prowess.

I’m a defender, I play defense,” said Boahen before giving credit to his teammates for his offensive opportunities.

Boahen shot 6-for-9 from the field, including 3-for-6 from 3-point range, and also provided sticky defense as did most of his teammates.

UIC coach Steve McClain experimented with several different defensive looks throughout the game.

“We’re continuing to figure out what we’re going to be good at defensively,” the third-year Flames boss said. “We want to be solid in our man-to-man, I thought we were. The 1-3-1 is something that we’ve been working on. We’ve been working on a 2-3 a lot. No question we were really active in it and it gave us some great possessions.”

The occasion where the Flames caused the most disruption was when McClain inserted 6-foot-8 freshman forward Michael Diggins at the top of the 1-3-1 in the second half. From that point, the Flames took a close game and eventually pushed it into a comfortable margin.

Diggins played just seven minutes, but his presence and length helped turn the tide.

“Mike is as a good of a guy at the top as there is – that’s one long young man and a hard-playing young man,” McClain said. We had a lot of different guys step in, maybe they didn’t play a bunch of minutes, but they played some really key minutes.”

The Flames forced 22 turnovers from North Carolina Central, a team who went 25-9 last season and made the NCAA tournament.

Mike Pankow/Whoosh!

UIC freshman Michael Diggins pressures North Carolina Central’s Brandon Goldsmith.

“The defense really kept us in the game today,” said senior center Tai Odiase, who had 10 points and eight rebounds. “We’re a really high-paced team, we’re used to scoring way more than 65. The defense kept us in it. With the 1-3-1, they didn’t have an answer for that.”

UIC went on a 16-2 run early – a spurt that included two nifty layups by Boahen and 3-pointers by Tarkus Ferguson and Jordan Blount – to open an 18-6 lead.

The Eagles (0-1) remained within arm’s reach for a while and pulled to within 47-43 with 8:39 left on Brandon Goldsmith’s 3-pointer, but Boahen answered with a 15-foot jumper and a 3-pointer on consecutive possessions to ignite a 9-0 burst that extended the lead back into double digits for good.

Ferguson, who McClain said had an “average game,” finished with 13 points, three assists and three steals, but also had four turnovers.

“It was a great team effort,” McClain said. “I don’t think one individual stood out tonight. I think a bunch of guys did a bunch of things. I’m really proud of the defensive effort.”

HE’S BACK: Friday night represented the first regular-season game action for redshirt sophomore forward Dikembe Dixson since he suffered a torn left ACL against DePaul last December.

Dixson was 3-for-7 from the field and 3-for-5 from the free-throw line to finish with nine points in 31 minutes. He also three rebounds, an assist and a steal.

“I thought he was OK,” McClain said. “It was good to get him back on the court. It’s going to take a little while to get back to game speed and game condition. I thought he handled it pretty well.”

FLAMES FLICKERS: This was the Flames’ first opening night victory in five seasons. The last season-opening win came in 2012, 59-52 over UC-Riverside. … Sophomore Jordan Blount started at power forward in his college debut, accumulating seven points, three rebounds and a team-high five assists in 33 minutes. … Diggins and fellow freshmen Jacob Wiley made their UIC debuts. Neither player scored in limited minutes, but both should be key contributors as the season wears on. …The Flames were 2-for-7 from the foul line in the first half, but didn’t miss in 11 attempts during the second half. … The 32 assists the Flames had in their exhibition against St. Francis would have been school if it were a regular-season game. … Chicago native Raasean Davis had 16 points and nine rebounds to lead NCCU.

POSTGAME VIDEOS

In other recent news:
FIRST LOOK: Maturing Flames oozing potential (11/10/17)
EXHIBITION: UIC 97, St. Francis 62: Hop aboard the hype train (11/6/17)
McClain earns faith from UIC (4/20/17)
Taking it on the ‘Chin’ (4/17/17)
Shocking exodus: Santos, Kolawole, Thomas leaving (3/30/17)
CBI: Coastal Carolina 89, UIC 78: Bittersweet ending (3/23/17)