Tired Flames find a way
In 5th game in 12 days, UIC edges Bradley
By Mike Pankow
November 22, 2018
"I'm tired," the Belleville Althoff graduate said.
There was a reason for that. Ferguson flirted with a triple-double, finishing with 22 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists in 38 minutes on Saturday in the Flames' 71-70 victory over Bradley at Credit Union 1 Arena – UIC's fifth game in 12 days to begin the new campaign.
The Flames (2-3) sighed with relief and will get a chance to catch their breaths as the Braves' Darrell Brown missed a shot at the buzzer.
"I have to give the kids credit," UIC coach Steve McClain said. "We've had a five-game stretch where we haven't had a lot of time to prep and not a lot of time to rest."
Led by Ferguson, the core group of UIC veterans carried the night. Fellow juniors Godwin Boahen (16 points), Marcus Ottey (12 points) and Jordan Blount (nine points, five rebounds) did just enough as the Braves (3-1) whittled a 14-point, second-half lead down to a single point.
"It got close, but we were able to finish it," McClain said. "I think they understand to not panic and if a play happens it happens. I put a lot of trust in my players. I believe they have to figure it out. At some point, they have to communicate on the court and make the changes themselves. There's no question during this five-game stretch, they've had to grow up. They had to take ownership. They all got better during this stretch because of the close games."
Bradley jumped out to 13-6 lead and led for most of the first half, thanks to a strong start by Brown, who scored 15 of his 19 points in the opening 20 minutes. Ferguson hit an NBA-range 3-pointer to give UIC a 32-29 lead with 4:34 left before the break. Boahen scored five points in the final 2:26 of the period to help the Flames open a 40-36 halftime edge.
UIC made some halftime adjustments and pushed its lead into double digits with a 15-5 run to start the second half. Boahen drained a pair of 3s, Ottey converted a couple of fastbreak layups and Ferguson also had a triple.
"(Bradley is) a team that tries to punch you right in the beginning and get you down," McClain said. "I thought we handled that."
The Braves didn't pack it in. Behind a very vocal traveling party of fans, Bradley went on a 12-2 run to pull to within 57-53 on Koch Bar's layup with 9:21 remaining.
Jamie Ahale and Ferguson each hit 3s to help push UIC's lead back to 63-56 with 7:24 to go, but again, Bradley made a charge.
With several players in deep foul trouble, including Blount, who missed a majority of the second half, the Flames had a hard time adjusting to physical play of Bradley and the amount of whistles from the officials.
"We knew coming in that (Bradley was) going to be one of the most physical teams we’ll play," Blount said. "They like to establish a presence. We knew there was going to be banging."
The Flames led by four with 18.4 seconds left, but Antoine Pittman drilled a 3 to cut it to 71-70 with 7.9 ticks to go. Boahen had a chance to make it a little more comfortable, but he missed both free throws, allowing the Braves a chance to win it in regulation.
Brown got the ball and dribbled it into the corner, but he missed a contested 3-pointer at the final horn.
Blount and the Flames were relieved to finish up this grueling stretch with their next game a week away against UW-Parkside just after Thanksgiving. It will be opportunity for some rest and some fine-tuning.
"It's a chance to get our legs back and get some shots up." he said.
FLAMES FLICKERS: Boahen and Ferguson each hit four 3-pointers. Boahen has hit at least one 3-pointer in 23 straight games. When asked about his improved outside shooting, Ferguson responded that it's all about "confidence" and he stayed in Chicago all summer and put in extra work at the Flames Athletic Center. ... Redshirt junior guard Dominique Matthews sat out for the fourth straight game following his recent bout with the flu. ... UIC outrebounded Bradley 31-28, led by Ferguson's eight boards. ... Former Green Bay coach Brian Wardle is in his fourth season with the Braves and faced UIC for the first time as Bradley's bench boss. ... Sophomore Michael Diggins had a rare off night for the Flames, going scoreless on 0-for-5 shooting in just under 16 minutes of action.