One extreme to another
Flames extinguished by Strus, DePaul
By Mike Pankow
December 11, 2018
Coach Steve McClain witnessed a dichotomy if there ever was one. Just nine days ago the Flames dominated a solid Illinois State squad in a 19-point win at Credit Union 1 Arena.
Friday night, the tables were turned as Max Strus and DePaul totally outclassed the Flames in a 90-70 thrashing at Wintrust Arena that was a disaster pretty much from the start.
How could a team go from one extreme to the other so quickly?
"It's 18- and 19-year old kids," McClain explained, following a near-two-hour meeting with the players after the game. "We started the game with a turnover. We didn't have the right mentality and it haunted us all night."
In fact, the Flames (4-7) committed four turnovers on their first six possessions en route to falling behind 13-2 in the first 3 minutes, 28 seconds of the game.
UIC showed some life in the next few minutes, going on an 11-4 run with a pair of 3-pointers by Godwin Boahen and a triple by Tarkus Ferguson, cutting the deficit to 17-13 with 11:03 left in the first half.
Max Strus, who scored a game-high 34 points with eight 3-pointers and 13 rebounds, countered with a layup to ignite a 17-2 spurt as the Blue Demons (7-2) opened a 34-15 advantage.
Strus then connected on consecutive 3-pointers to push the lead to 22 at 40-18 with 4:37 left, forcing McClain to call his third timeout of the first half in an effort to stop the bleeding.
"We got off to a poor start and couldn't ever seem to get out of it," McClain said. "We haven't had many bad starts to games. Tonight was as bad as we could have, both offensively and defensively. As I told them, I don't know in my career if I've ever used three timeouts in a first half. We just couldn't change it. It was one of those nights where we just couldn't change it."
UIC scored eight straight points, including five from Michael Diggins, to cut the Blue Demons' lead to 42-28 with 2:09 left in the first half.
Strus quickly buried two 3-pointers and made three free throws after being fouled on a 3-point attempt as DePaul closed the half on a 10-0 binge to take a 52-28 lead.
"I thought at times we were trying, but we just couldn't do anything right," McClain said.
The Blue Demons even added insult to injury when Strus soared and hammered home a dunk over Flames freshman Travell Washington in the second half. Strus was given a technical for yelling in Washington's face, but that was about all he did wrong on this night.
"Max is like our Superman," said Devin Gage, who had a terrific game of 15 points, five rebounds, five assists and six steals for DePaul. "Nothing he does on the court surprises me."
Strus made 8-for-16 tries from 3-point range, at times looking like he was in “On Fire” mode in the classic video game NBA Jam.
"My teammates were getting me open," said Strus, who transferred to DePaul two years ago after being recruited by UIC following two seasons at Division II Lewis. "I had a lot of wide-open shots and shots I could make."
Ferguson led the Flames with 20 points, including five 3-pointers, and eight rebounds, but he also had seven of UIC's 20 turnovers. Marcus Ottey contributed 17 points while Jordan Blount added 10 points and eight rebounds and Boahen chipped in 10 points.
DePaul had five players in double figures, including Paul Reed (13 points), Illinois transfer Jalen Coleman-Lands (10) and Eli Cain (10). The Blue Demons shot 52.2 percent for the game and made 12 3-pointers while holding the Flames to 39.3 percent from the field.
"We had one-day preparation for a really good team," said DePaul coach Dave Leitao, noting the Demons played Chicago State on Wednesday night. "Before tonight UIC shot the ball very well against really good competition and they (drive) the ball on you, they play really hard and they're really aggressive. I was nervous about what we were going to be able to do with them. From the outset, our mindset and attention to detail defensively was as good as it has been all year long."
For McClain and the Flames, it's back to the drawing board with Incarnate Word coming to town for a game at Credit Union 1 Arena on Monday night.
"You're going to have nights where things don't happen for you," McClain said. "We haven't really had a game like this. It's going to happen to you. Nobody played good, it didn't matter who you were on that court. It wasn't who we are. That's what I talked them about. It's reality. Our defensive mentality wasn't right from the beginning and that affected our offensive mentality. You play a good team and have that, you're not going to be able to win the game. All you can do is get back in the gym and go to work."
FLAMES FLICKERS: After scoring 15 of his 17 points in the second half, Ottey owns 996 career points. ... Ferguson hit the 20-point mark for the fifth time this season. ... UIC is now 0-6 on the road this season. ... The Flames were outrebounded 41-30 and dropped to 1-6 in those instances. ... DePaul now leads the all-time series 10-2 over the Flames. UIC's last victory came exactly two years to the day as Kyle Guice hit the go-ahead 3-pointer in the final minute of an 80-75 win at McGrath Arena on DePaul's campus. ... Former UIC superstar Dikembe Dixson was in attendance.