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That’s more like it

Flames look better, end 4-game skid

By Mike Pankow

December 7, 2017

Mike Pankow/Whoosh!

Dikembe Dixson soars for a dunk in the second half Wednesday night.

There was one thing that really stuck out during UIC’s four-game losing streak. It was all about defense, or the lack thereof.

The defensive inefficiency was the focus of practice leading up to Wednesday’s contest with Wisconsin-Parkside.

“It has been really intense,” Flames redshirt sophomore guard Dominique Matthews said. “The last practice we worked on defense for two hours and shot for only about 15 minutes. It’s been mainly about defense.”

UIC did a solid job of cleaning up its defense, holding the Division II Rangers to 26.1 percent in a 76-48 victory at the Pavilion and allowing the fewest points in coach Steve McClain’s three seasons.

“We didn’t give up just open shots,” McClain said. “The shots they got were contested. We did a better job of switching and I thought we were just more under control.”

Leading the charge was senior center Tai Odiase, who blocked a season-high seven shots. The Flames (3-5) finished with 12 rejections for the game, but they know they still need to get even better with local rival DePaul coming to the Pavilion this weekend.

“In practice we focused solely on defense, because we knew we needed to work on that,” Odiase said. “We know we’re not where we need to be going into Saturday, so we need to focus a little bit more these next two days.”

Dikembe Dixson had his second-highest point total of the season with 17 as the redshirt sophomore began to look like his pre-injury self. But McClain was more impressed with what Dixson did on the other end.

“I thought defensively he was a lot better,” McClain said. “I couldn’t care less about his scoring, he’s going to score, I know that. Defensively he was way more engaged. He should have (at least) one steal a game for a dunk.”

UIC’s offensive efficiency was markedly improved as well, shooting 51.9 percent and committing a season-low 11 turnovers. It would’ve been just 10 turnovers, but McClain told the Flames to run out the shot clock and not take a shot with a 28-point lead in the final five seconds.

In addition to Dixson’s 17 points, Matthews added 13 points and Odiase scored 11.

Godwin Boahen and Marcus Ottey handled most of the point guard duties with Tarkus Ferguson nursing a foot injury. Boahen had eight points, nine rebounds and four assists with no turnovers while Ottey added six points and nine rebounds, but he had three turnovers.

UIC led 35-25 at halftime as gritty Parkside stayed close, but the Flames turned up the heat with a 22-5 run to break the game wide open. Dixson and Matthews each scored eight points during the burst that put the Flames up 57-33 with 10:02 left.

“I thought our guys came out with the right mind-set,” McClain said. “It’s been a tough seven, eight days. I was looking at today, for all the experience we have, we’re still trying to learn. We had a couple of tough days of practice. I feel we got better tonight. That was the whole point of this game … can you come out and execute better? We shot the ball better, we defended better. We were able to take a 10-point lead and take it to 20 and keep it there.”

Mike Pankow/Whoosh!

Tai Odiase swats away a Wisconsin-Parkside shot in the first half Wednesday night.

BLOCK PARTY: Odiase’s seven blocked shots pulled him into a tie for the all-time career lead at UIC with Scott VanderMeer with 274. VanderMeer set the mark in just three seasons with the Flames.

“I felt pretty good about (tying the record),” said the 6-foot-9 Homewood-Flossmoor graduate. “My goal coming in my freshman year was to try to leave my mark. That’s just job, to help my teammates whenever they get beaten off the dribble.”

After a slow start with rejections, Odiase has 12 in his last two games and is now averaging 3.0 per game.

FLAMES FLICKERS: Senior reserve center Clint Robinson has made 22 straight free throws, including 6-for-6 Wednesday night, and is now shooting a team-best 88.9 percent from the line this season. Odiase, meanwhile, was 5-for-6 from the line and is now shooting 78.2 percent. … Parkside forward Bret Barclay, who previously attended Division I Southeastern Louisiana, fouled out in just three minutes of play. … Every Flame that played scored at least four points. … Junior forward Naradain James (back) missed his second straight game while freshman swingman Ralph Bissainthe, who likely will redshirt, was dressed in case of emergency. … Wednesday was the first meeting since the 2004-05 season when Parkside infamously pulled off the 79-73 upset at the Pavilion when Gareth Malkowski hit eight 3-pointers and finished with 33 points. … There was a moment of silence before the game in honor of Ed McQuillan, who coached at UIC from 1972-77. He died late last month at 74.

POSTGAME VIDEOS:

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