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What a letdown

Flames struggle with Mastodons

By Mike Pankow

November 20, 2017

Mike Pankow/Whoosh!

UIC center Tai Odiase attempts to block the shot of Fort Wayne’s Bryson Scott in the first half Saturday afternoon.

UIC didn’t shoot very well Saturday afternoon against Fort Wayne.

Check that. The Flames did shoot themselves in the foot pretty well.

While hitting just 26.8 percent of their field-goal attempts, the Flames missed a bevy of bunnies around the basket and were even worse from the outside in a miserable 67-51 loss to the Mastodons at the UIC Pavilion.

It was a disappointing follow up to one of the most impressive victories in coach Steve McClain’s two-plus years as UIC coach – a complete and total domination in a 40-point victory over Delaware State less than 48 hours earlier.

The Flames (2-2) also were outrebounded 45-38 and committed a season-high 18 turnovers.

“More than anything, we created our own struggles because we had wide-open plays at the rim that we didn’t finish,” McClain said. “We had plays we could’ve made that we didn’t finish. When they got those opportunities, they finished them.”

Sophomore guard Marcus Ottey was the only Flame to reach double figures, finishing with 12 points off the bench.

Bryson Scott, a transfer from Purdue, scored most of his game-high 19 points late in the game for the Mastodons (3-1) after beating the pressure defense UIC was forced to employ.

The Flames had a 16-8 lead midway through the first half after a 3-pointer by freshman Michael Diggins, but UIC went into a funk.

Starting point guard Tarkus Ferguson picked up three fouls in the first half, severely hampering the offensive flow.

The litany of fouls piling up on the Flames began to irritate McClain. When a call was whistled on Godwin Boahen with 3:04 left in the half, UIC’s coach was visibly perturbed.

Mike Pankow/Whoosh!

UIC coach Steve McClain, left, is incredulous after getting called for a technical foul while assistant coach Dee Brown attempts to restrain him.

After briefly debating the call with officials, he spun around and took off his jacket. He was then called for a technical foul with his back turned. He turned back around and shot a glare back at official Brandon Cruz.

“All I was doing was taking my coat off,” McClain explained. “I thought we were going to the other end to shoot free throws. All of a sudden we weren’t. It was real emotion, but I didn’t say anything wrong, I didn’t say anything to the ref.”

McClain got fired up and even got in star forward Dikembe Dixson’s face shortly thereafter, but the Flames just didn’t answer the call.

Despite everything, the game was tied at 25-25 at the half and UIC was in striking distance until Fort Wayne went on a 15-4 run that included two 3-pointers by Jordon King.

By the time Dylan Carl knocked down a 3 from the corner, the Mastodons had built a 44-33 lead with 10:58 left.

The Flames pulled to within 49-43 after Jordan Blount’s steal and layup with 7:20 left and brought out its trapping defense.

Scott scored 14 of his points in the final 6:21, mostly after Fort Wayne figured out a way to beat the Flames’ press down the floor, eventually pushing the margin back into double figures.

“He’s a veteran guard that played in the Big Ten,” McClain said. “He’s a redshirt senior. He’s a smart player.”

Saturday’s contest was the fourth in eight days to start the season, a stretch conjured up by design to challenge his emerging club.

“It’s hard to do that, it’s hard to prepare,” McClain said. “I knew what this group had to do, and that’s why I did it.

“We still don’t know how, in a hard game, to make plays.”

FLAMES FLICKERS: Dixson, Ferguson, Boahen and Dominique Matthews combined to shoot 4-for-34, a fact that wasn’t lost on McClain during his postgame press conference. Dixson was 1-for-11 while finishing with nine points, thanks to 7-for-8 from the free-throw line. Matthews was 0-for-7 after scoring a team-high 19 against Delaware State. … Senior center Tai Odiase had eight points and 10 rebounds. … Fort Wayne’s John Konchar (from West Chicago) had 16 rebounds. … In addition to the McClain technical, there was a double technical called on Fort Wayne’s Xzavier Taylor and UIC’s Blount. …There were 46 fouls called in the game, including 24 on the Flames. … UIC did shoot 19-for-22 from the free-throw line and held Fort Wayne to just 32.3 percent shooting.

POSTGAME VIDEOS

In other recent news:
UIC 95, Delaware State 55: Path of destruction (11/17/17)
St. Joseph’s 86, UIC 82 (OT): Missed opportunity (11/15/17)
UIC 65, North Carolina Central 55: The defense doesn’t rest (11/11/17)
FIRST LOOK: Maturing Flames oozing potential (11/10/17)
EXHIBITION: UIC 97, St. Francis 62: Hop aboard the hype train (11/6/17)