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Flames turned up in 2nd half

AFTER SLUGGISH START, UIC WINS 4TH STRAIGHT

December 20, 2007

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Robert Kreps scored 12 points and reached double figures for the fifth straight game as UIC rallied from a seven-point halftime deficit to beat Toledo on Wednesday.

It took a pinch of offense from Josh Mayo and Robert Kreps and a dash of athleticism and defense by Karl White Jr. and Jermaine Dailey, but UIC found the right ingredients for victory on Wednesday night.

Mayo and Kreps combined for 34 points with 22 coming after halftime as the Flames rallied from a seven-point to post a 66-56 non-conference victory over road-weary Toledo at the UIC Pavilion.

Mayo, the Flames’ leading scorer, had just six points at the break and UIC had 10 turnovers in a sloppy display of offense as Toledo grabbed a 32-25 advantage.

“[Toledo is] a much better team than [its] record indicates,” UIC coach Jimmy Collins said. “I thought our guys came out a little sluggish, but a good sign of a team coming together is one that’s able to pick up the energy level.”

The Flames did just that as Mayo hit threes on back-to-back possessions to start the second half. UIC’s point guard Spencer Stewart had five first-half turnovers, including three in the first minutes, but he atoned with three quick assists early after intermission, two of which set up Mayo’s threes.

“Our most polished point guard, Spencer [Stewart], didn’t have his best game,” Collins said. “We had too many turnovers and they weren’t in presses, and that was a reason to be concerned. At halftime we talked about it and made some adjustments.”

UIC (7-4) cut down on its miscues and also stepped up its defensive intensity. Toledo’s Tyrone Kent, a Crane graduate who scored 13 points in the first half, was curtailed when the game mattered most.

“Our defense certainly picked it up in the second half,” Collins said. “Karl White got on Kent and did a really good job of slowing him down.”

Toledo (2-9) took a 39-33 lead on Ridley Johnson’s layup, but Mayo answered with a three-pointer that ignited a 9-0 Flames run. Dailey’s dunk off an offensive rebound gave UIC its first lead at 40-39 with 13:03 remaining in the game.

After Kent hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 42-42 with 12:14 to play, UIC went on another run. This one a 14-5 spurt started by a jumper by Jeremy Buttell and capped with two free throws by Jovan Ignjatovic. In between, Kreps scored five points and Mayo hit another trey. When the smoke cleared, UIC had its biggest lead at 58-47 with 6:47 left.

“I thought we followed our game plan pretty well, but the effort wasn’t there in the second half,” said Toledo coach Stan Joplin, whose team has played nine of its 11 games on the road. “We got a little bit tired and we gave up too many open looks at the basket. We didn’t compete as we should.”

The Flames never trailed thereafter, although the Rockets pulled within 59-55 with 3:07 to play, but they did not threaten again.

Mayo scored 16 of his game-high 22 points in the second half and ended up shooting 8-for-14 from the field and 4-for-7 from three-point range.

“They played me well in the first half,” Mayo said. “[Toledo] really got into me and made me drive more. In the second half, they missed a couple of shots and we got out on the break and I was able to get open and my teammates found me and got me started.”

Kreps, the freshman from Moroa-Forsyth, added 12 points off the bench for his fifth straight double-figure scoring game.

“I just go the gym, try to get better everyday,” Kreps said. “Every time I’m out there playing, I just keep getting better and getting more experience.”

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Senior forward Jermaine Dailey played solid defense, along with Karl White Jr., and was key in UIC’s second-half comeback.

Scott VanderMeer added nine points for the Flames, including eight in the opening half, keeping the game within striking distance.

“I felt some urgency [in the second half],” Mayo said. “I felt like I had to assert myself more. Scotty had a real good first half and kept us close.”

Dailey and White had solid all-around efforts for UIC. Dailey had six points on two dunks and a tip-in, five rebounds and three blocks and White contributed six points, four rebounds, two steals and a block.

Kent led Toledo with 19 points on 7-for-15 shooting, including five threes. Jonathan Amos chipped in with 12 points and a team-high seven rebounds for the Rockets. St. Rita graduate Jerrah Young added eight points.

With the victory, UIC has four straight and five of six since the Paradise Jam. Mayo feels the Flames are building momentum because of team unity.

“God has really blessed with a group of guys that has great chemistry,” Mayo said. “Chemistry down the stretch [of a game] is really important. You know where a guy’s going to be and you’re all on the same page. We’ve been blessed with an intelligent team.”

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Josh Mayo has been dominant at the UIC Pavilion this season.

MAYO PACKETS: With his 22 points, Mayo continued his terrific start. He is now averaging 26.0 points in five UIC home games this season. …

He now leads the Horizon League in scoring at 19.1 points per game, passing Green Bay’s Mike Schachtner (19.0). …

Mayo has converted his last 20 free throws after going 2-for-2 on Wednesday night. …

He is perfect at the free-throw line at the Pavilion this season, going 23-for-23. …

He has made his last 39 free throws at the Pavilion dating back to last season. The last time Mayo missed at home was Feb. 21 against Milwaukee. …

Mayo has made at least three-pointer in every game this season and has hit at least one in his last 14 contests dating back to last season.

FLAMES FLICKERS: The Flames have a new walk-on: Guard Humberto Huerta, who prepped at Lane Tech, will wear No. 45. …

UIC’s 7-4 record is its best start since the 2003-04 season when the Flames were 9-2 after 11 games. Those Flames won a school-record 24 games and went to the NCAA tournament. …

UIC has started 5-0 at home for the first time since the 2001-02 season. Those Flames went to the NCAA tournament after finishing with 20 wins and a 10-2 mark at home. …

Coming into the game, Toledo had the nation’s toughest schedule. The Rockets’ opponents were a combined 78-20. …

Wednesday’s game was the first time the Flames had rallied from a halftime deficit to win. They were 0-3 coming in.

UP NEXT: The Flames will host Howard at the Pavilion this Saturday at 3 p.m. The Bison is 3-8 after a 77-51 loss at Northwestern.

If fans can’t make to the Pavilion, video streaming will also be available on the Horizon League Network and audio streaming will be available on www.uicflames.com.

In addition, fans can interact with the live UIC radio/internet broadcast by sending their questions or comments to play-by-play man Adam Levinson anytime at uichoops@gmail.com. Those fans whose e-mails are read on the air will receive an Eli's Cheesecake gift certificate.

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