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Blockbuster trilogy gives UIC win over DePaul


December 16, 2007

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Freshman Robert “Robo” Kreps scored a career-high 19 points to help UIC defeat DePaul.

ROSEMONT—UIC coach Jimmy Collins concocted the perfect potion for the Flames to claim their first-ever win over DePaul.

Collins’ three-guard alignment of junior Josh Mayo, sophomore Spencer Stewart and freshman Robert Kreps gave UIC a combination of efficient scoring, team leadership and toughness as the Flames defeated the Blue Demons 85-80 at the Allstate Arena on Saturday night.

Kreps had his best game as a collegian, scoring 19 points on 7-for-9 shooting and 4-for-6 from three-point range. Mayo was just 4-for-12 from the field, but he still collected 18 points and six assists. Stewart contributed a career-high 16 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

Collins came up with his three-guard combo by tinkering around in practice.

“Sometimes in practice, I’ll put them together and experiment and they do well,” Collins said. “Then I’ll do it the next day and they’ll do better. There’s no secret that those guys know the game, they play well together. There’s no substitute for shooting the ball and they can shoot it well.”

Mayo, the Flames’ leading scorer at 18.9 points per game coming into Saturday, missed his first six shots from the field, but Kreps came off the bench and sizzled, scoring 10 first-half points to help UIC to a 35-33 lead at intermission.

“I’m glad he was there,” Mayo said. “He really helped us out in the first half.”

DePaul rallied from an early deficit to take a five-point lead at 23-18 on alley-oop dunk by Dar Tucker, but Kreps nailed a three-pointer and a 12-foot jumper to tie the score.

“I just to come out with as much as energy as I can,” Kreps said. “I really feed off Josh and Spencer getting me open shots.”

The Blue Demons again took a five-point lead, but Mayo hit back-to-back threes for his first points of the game to give UIC a 33-32 lead with 1:46 before halftime.

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UIC’s Josh Mayo was just 4-for-12 from the field, but he still scored 18 points and doled out six assists.

The Flames extended their lead to 42-33 as they scored the first seven points off the second half on a Stewart floater, a three-pointer by Karl White Jr. and a layup by Scott VanderMeer.

Then DePaul showed some life as it went on a 16-2 spurt, capped by Draelon Burns’ layup after a steal, to take a 49-44 lead with 13:18 to play.

UIC kept chipping away as Kreps tied the score at 49-49 and 54-54 with two more clutch three-pointers.

“I’m happy that Robo has picked up [our offense] so quickly,” Collins said. “I knew that he was going to come along. These guys have done a very good job of staying grounded.”

The Flames took a 57-56 lead on VanderMeer’s three-point play with 9:54 left and never trailed again. DePaul tied the game on two occasions, but UIC grabbed the advantage for good on a free throw by Kreps and extended it on an alert stickback by Robert Bush.

After DePaul crept within 69-68 on two free throws by Burns, Stewart missed a three-point try and Kreps was in perfect position for the offensive rebound. Moments later, Stewart found Mayo for a critical trey that put UIC ahead by four points with 3:14 left.

Stewart, who scored seven points in final 4:14, made two free throws for a 78-70 Flames lead with 1:49 remaining. Tucker hit a three-pointer to pull the Blue Demons within 80-78 with 43.6 seconds to go, but UIC hit 5 of 6 from the foul line to ice the victory.

“There were three perimeter players in double figures and they did other things well like getting assists and free throws, and that’s a bad combination for us,” DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright said. “Even I thought we did a good job on Mayo, the freshman [Kreps] had a wonderful game and Stewart had great composure and ran the team well.”

VanderMeer added some punch on the inside with 13 points and seven rebounds for UIC (6-4), which won its fourth straight.

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DePaul guard Draelon Burns scored 21 points, but shot just 7-for-20.

Dar Tucker led DePaul (2-5) with 26 points and 11 rebounds and Burns added 21 points. Freshman Mac Koshwal contributed 16 points and 11 rebounds for the Blue Demons.

“We’re not good at putting things behind us,” said Wainwright, referring to DePaul’s overtime loss to Vanderbilt on Wednesday. “We’re not tough enough right now to fight through. We get deflated easily.”

Wainwright was quick to give the Flames credit, however.

“Certainly UIC has got a very good team,” he said. “They’re very confident and they’re shooting the ball well right now.”

The Flames continued to be crisp on offense, shooting 48 percent from the field and 40 percent from three-point range. Even players who didn’t have huge scoring numbers had an impact on the game, such as Jermaine Dailey, whose four points came on two key offensive tip-ins, and Jeremy Buttell, who had a team-best 10 rebounds.

“It was a great win for us,” Collins said. “We’ve been searching for some identity and we’re starting to find it.

“We’ve talked about chemistry from Day 1. It’s been written about: We didn’t have good chemistry last year. We wanted to fuse it together this year. They worked hard together all summer. We have some young men who have a tremendous deal of respect for what we’re trying to teach.”

TOUCHDOWN, UIC: On two occasions, UIC beat DePaul’s full-court press by throwing football passes to Kreps, who was streaking toward the basket. Once Kreps cashed in with a layup and the other time, Kreps caught the ball near the baseline and recovered to find VanderMeer for a dunk.

“When they were in their press, no one got back, so me and Spencer made eye contact and he hit me on the fly,” Kreps said.

Collins added: “There’s a reason why he was one of the best [wide] receivers in high school last year.”

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DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright speaks to the media after the game.

PRAISE FROM A FRIEND: Wainwright has happy to see Collins back on the bench after the UIC coach suffered through surgery to repair an abdominal aortic aneurysm.

“Jimmy Collins is a longtime friend and I extremely happy about his physical recovery,” said Wainwright, a Berwyn native. “I’m very happy that he’s back on the sidelines. He’s a terrific coach and a better person.”

FLAMES FLICKERS: Collins on the meaning of the victory against DePaul: “It’s very big for us, especially because it’s on the road. It’s a big win coming off a troubled year. It’s a big win with a bunch of new players. To beat a Big East team certainly ranks up there with the best wins we’ve had.” …

One of the biggest cheers from the UIC bench came when reserve forward Jovan Ignjatovic absorbed a charging foul by DePaul’s Adam Handler in the first half. …

The last time the Flames started 6-4 was two years ago. After losing four of their first seven games that season (like this season), UIC won three straight – over Mississippi, Northwestern and Northern Illinois. …

A correction on the note in Friday’s DePaul preview story, there are actually now five coaches that Collins has faced that have led multiple teams. Bruce Weber should have been included. The full list: Wainwright (UNC Wilmington, DePaul), Weber (Southern Illinois, Illinois), Bill Self (Oral Roberts, Illinois, Kansas), Melvin Watkins (Charlotte, Texas A&M), and Brad Brownell (UNC Wilmington, Wright State). …

After Saturday’s win, UIC is now 5-5 at the Rosemont Horizon/Allstate Arena. The other results: They lost to DePaul in 1981 and 2004, split two games with Loyola (win in 1989, loss in 1992), defeated Northern Illinois and Valparaiso as part of the Mid-Continent Conference tournament in 1994, lost to Green Bay in the championship game of that same tournament, lost to Illinois in a neutral site game in 2000 and defeated Southern Illinois as part of doubleheader with DePaul and Chicago State in 2002.

UP NEXT: The Flames return to the UIC Pavilion for a Wednesday night game against Toledo of the MAC. The Rockets are 2-8 after a 68-61 loss to Massachusetts on Saturday.

Two Chicago prep products are on Toledo’s roster, guard Tyrone Kent (Crane) and forward Jerrah Young (St. Rita). The Rockets have played a brutal schedule, including games with Vanderbilt, Dayton and Pittsburgh. Toledo has beaten just Missouri State and Drexel on the season.

Game time is 7 p.m. If fans can’t make to the Pavilion, the game will be televised on Lakeshore Public Television and broadcast on WIND-AM 560. Video streaming will also be available on the Horizon League Network.

In other recent news:
One more stiff test for Flames (DePaul preview) (12/14/07)
Mayo nets another Player of the Week honor (12/11/07)
Mayo's home cooking serves Flames well (vs. Green Bay) (12/9/07)
Mayo, Flames fired up, take it out on Milwaukee (12/7/07)
Horizon play opens with mirror images (Milwaukee preview) (12/5/07)
Second-half avalanche buries Flames (at Illinois St.) (12/2/07)
Flames win Dailey game, win on road (vs. CMU, signings) (11/29/07)
Bush could make season debut (CMU preview) (11/27/07)