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Kreps finishes off Flames’ comeback


December 17, 2009

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Robo Kreps scored 19 points, including the game-winning layup, as UIC snapped a six-game losing streak.

Six-foot-tall Robo Kreps had only one destination in mind in the waning seconds on Wednesday night and a waiting defender nearly a foot taller wasn’t going to stop him.

Kreps drove to the basket down the right side of the lane and lofted a shot up and in over 6-foot-11 Roeland Schaftenaar with 5.6 seconds left to lift UIC to a 63-61 victory over Oregon State at the Pavilion.

“We just set a screen and roll,” said Kreps, who scored a game-high 19 points. “I just wanted to take it in there and see if I could a foul called, but I made the basket.”

UIC point guard Spencer Stewart set a screen right of key on Josh Tarver, allowing Kreps to blow by Seth Tarver and access the sliver of daylight in the Beavers’ defense before tossing up his winning shot.

“[Kreps] made a great play,” Oregon State coach Craig Robinson said. “We didn’t executive our defense well enough to stop him. When you make plays like that, you win games.”

The Flames (2-6) snapped their six-game losing streak and won for the first time against Division I opponent all season. UIC closed the game on a 13-4 run and took advantage of four Beavers turnovers in the final 1:20.

Leading by four points and inbounding under UIC’s basket, Calvin Haynes lofted a pass that was intercepted by Kreps, who strode down the floor for a layup and a three-point play to cut the deficit to 59-58 with 1:17 to play.

Schaftenaar scored to put the Beavers (4-5) back up three with 50.9 seconds left before the Flames worked the ball down low for a Brad Birton layup to cut the score to 61-60 with 25.4 seconds to go.

All OSU had to do was protect the ball and wait to get fouled, but Haynes threw the ball away to set up Kreps’ winning drive.

“We had the lead, but as a team, we blew it,” said Seth Tarver, who led the Beavers with 17 points. “We had too many turnovers. We just weren’t tough enough.”

OSU had two more chances to tie or win in the final seconds, but Zavion Neely and Brad Birton each stole inbounds passes to seal the victory.

The Flames trailed 57-50 with 3:04 remaining, but they willed themselves back with a blend of hustle and grit.

“It was a great win, because we’ve been talking about sticking together in adversity,” UIC coach Jimmy Collins said. “It was gut-check plays. We got to loose balls and long rebounds and we got the stops when we really needed to.”

Birton and Jeremy Buttell grabbed key rebounds and Buttell sacrificed his body diving for one loose ball, crashing into the scorer’s table. UIC also took three charges from the Beavers—one apiece by Buttell, Stewart and Birton.

“It’s a great feeling, because we haven’t done that in some games this year,” said Kreps of the Flames’ determination. “All the guys were saying that this was a must-win game. We knew we had to make plays like that.”

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Senior Spencer Stewart handed out eight assists for the second straight game.

Stewart, playing in his third game since his five-game suspension and making his first start, provided nine points on three three-point baskets with eight assists. He did have six turnovers for the second straight game, but feels like he is slowly getting his rhythm back.

“Two games in a row with six turnovers was not what I was looking for,” Stewart said. “I think a lot of it was just mental. I just try to force feed it sometimes, maybe I get a little impatient. It’s just a matter of getting the chemistry back and getting back into the flow of things.”

The Flames got contributions across the board as Neely chipped in with 13 points and Jeremy Buttell and Brad Birton each had eight points and five rebounds.

UIC scored the first six points of the game, but OSU settled down and began to look like the team that won last season’s Collegiate Basketball Invitational. The Beavers grabbed an 18-8 advantage with 8:28 left in the opening stanza after consecutive baskets by Seth Tarver.

The Flames worked their way back, grabbing the lead late in the half on a 17-foot jumper by Kreps. The Beavers got two free throws to forge a 25-25 tie at intermission.

Early in the second half, UIC held a five-point lead on two occasions, but it couldn’t put OSU away. An 8-0 run put the Beavers ahead by seven before the Flames burned down the deficit for good.

“It was a complete collapse,” Robinson said. “I think the difference was that they were making plays.”

Maybe the tide is beginning to shift back toward the Flames.

“Momentum is starting to come back on our side,” Stewart said. “This is a definitely a huge win for us—to pull it out at the end.”

FLAMES FLICKERS: This was the Flames’ first win against the team from the Pac-10 in three all-time matchups. UIC lost in back-to-back seasons to Oregon in 1999-2000 and 2000-01. …

UIC shot 62.5 percent (15-for-24) in the second half after hitting 34.8 percent (8-for-23) in the first half.

The Flames won despite allowing 54.5 percent shooting to the Beavers and turning the ball over 17 times. OSU had 19 turnovers, however.

Junior center K.C. Robbins was pulled for the starting lineup to serve as his discipline for elbowing DePaul’s Mario Stula on Sunday. Robbins played 10 minutes off the bench and finished with two points and two rebounds. …

Stewart received his first start of the season as Collins decided to go with three guards (along with Kreps and Neely) from the outset. …

Robinson, who is the brother-in-law of President Obama, made his return to Chicago, where he was a star for Mount Carmel High School on the South side. He was also an assistant coach at Northwestern.

UP NEXT: The Flames host in-state rival and former Mid-Con and Horizon League member Northern Illinois at the Pavilion on Saturday afternoon.

The Huskies are 1-6 with losses to Illinois, Northwestern, Bradley, Northern Iowa, Southeast Missouri and Minnesota. Their lone win came against Tennessee State.

Tip time is 3 p.m. Coverage will be available on the Horizon League Network at horizonleaguenetwork.tv and the UIC radio feed at WMVP-AM 1000 and espnchicago.com. NIU coverage can be heard on WSCR-AM 670 and WLBK-AM 1360.

In other recent news:
Flames Sunday schooled (at DePaul) (12/14/09)
Flames extinguished in Green Bay (12/7/09)
Flames crying out for some stability (at Milwaukee) (12/4/09)
Salukis’ 2nd-half spurt douses Flames (at SIU) (11/29/09)
Flames’ comeback falls just short (vs. Illinois St., plus Stewart update) (11/24/09)
Bitter cold night in Mt. Pleasant (at C. Michigan) (11/19/09)
Neely seizes opportunity as Flames win opener (vs. UIS) (11/15/09)
It's not easy being green (Exhibition vs. Lewis) (11/11/09)
Flames tabbed ninth in preseason (plus HL/Whoosh! vote) (11/9/09)