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State of disappointment

Flames lose tight one, still winless vs. D-I foes from Illinois

By Mike Pankow

December 22, 2017

Mike Pankow/Whoosh!

UIC sophomore Jordan Blount, who had a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds, goes up for a layup in the first half Thursday.

DeKALB, Ill.—UIC can’t figure out how to beat in its in-state competition.

The Flames dropped to 0-4 against Division I teams from Illinois after suffering their second straight close road loss – a 69-63 defeat at the hands of Northern Illinois on Thursday at the NIU Convocation Center.

Marcus Ottey and Dominique Matthews each scored 17 points and Jordan Blount added 13 points, 10 rebounds and four assists for the Flames (4-8), who also lost at Loyola, DePaul and Illinois State.

UIC is getting closer to breaking through on the road, losing its last two by a combined seven points after enduring 20-plus-point losses in the first three road contests.

“I thought once again on the road we defended well enough and we rebounded well,” UIC coach Steve McClain said. “I thought our guys had the right mentality, but we just couldn’t make any (outside) shots. We’re 3-for-20 from 3 and had some good looks that didn’t go in, but those will come.”

Despite struggling at times with their shot, an overabundance of turnovers and missing both Tarkus Ferguson (foot) and Godwin Boahen (head), the Flames did plenty of things right with their hustle and grit. Defensively, they held NIU leading scorer Eugene German off the board in the first half and limited him to 11 points, nine under his average.

“You’re having to readjust everything you do (without Ferguson and Boahen at the point),” McClain said. “It’s not that Marcus can’t, but you’ve got to keep things simple. There were some actions tonight that we just couldn’t go to. Overall, Marcus has been playing well and I can’t complain about what he’s done.”

Dante Thorpe made up for German’s subpar outing with a career-high 21 points and seven rebounds while Levi Bradley added 18 points and 10 rebounds for the Huskies (7-5).

“You’re always going to give up something,” McClain said. “We felt like if we kept (German) down that somebody else would have to step up. I thought Thorpe did for them.”

It was a nip-and-tuck affair for most of the night.

Dikembe Dixson (11 points) capped a quick 6-0 run for UIC with a 10-foot jumper for a 13-9 lead with 13:18 left in the half.

Thorpe’s three-point play put NIU back in front at 19-17. Blount answered with a 3-pointer to give the Flames the lead back at 20-19.

UIC went ahead 27-24 on Matthews’ floater with 1:45 left in the half, but the Huskies closed the period with a 9-2 run started by Bradley’s four-point play.

We’ve got to finish the first half better,” McClain said. “We didn’t finish the first half well at Illinois State and we didn’t finish it well tonight.”

Mike Pankow/Whoosh!

UIC’s Tai Odiase soars to the rim for a dunk in the second half.

Thorpe hit a pair of close-in shots as the Huskies opened a 39-32 lead with 16:38 left.

“(Thorpe is) a tough matchup, because he can get into those gaps, get into the paint,” NIU coach Mark Montgomery said. “He has that floater that’s tough to guard.”

The Flames countered with a 12-4 run, capped by Dixson’s 12-foot jumper for a 44-43 lead with 9:55 left.

That lead disappeared 18 seconds later on Thorpe’s 3-pointer from the corner and NIU went on an 8-0 to go ahead 51-44 with 8:09 to play. The Flames never led again.

UIC pulled to within 53-51 on Matthews’ layup, but NIU broke it open a bit with a 9-2 run to push its lead to a game-high nine with 3:19 remaining.

McClain feels the Flames are beginning to find right formula to stay close on the road, but they haven’t quite figured out how to finish. Seventeen turnovers, including six by Dixson and five by Ottey, were chiefly responsible for just enough squandered chances.

“We’re defending and rebounding,” he said. “Your whole goal in a road game is to be there in the last four minutes and we’ve been there.”

FLAMES FLICKERS: Boahen did not dress and probably won’t play until after Christmas, so it appears he will miss Saturday’s game against Trinity Christian at the Pavilion. … The Flames outrebounded their opponent for the fifth consecutive game, outboarding NIU 41-36. … UIC also outshot NIU 44.6 percent to 41.4, but the Flames only hit 3 of 20 3-pointers while the Huskies were 6-for-15 from deep. … Blount recorded his first career double-double.

POSTGAME VIDEOS:

In other recent news:
Illinois State 71, UIC 70: Cruel road (12/20/17)
UIC 76, Dartmouth 60: Point made (12/16/17)
DePaul 65, UIC 55: The kid that got away (12/12/17)
UIC 76, Wis.-Parkside 48: That’s more like it (12/7/17)
Loyola 85, UIC 61: Crosstown classic beatdown (12/4/17)
Troy 87, UIC 66: Lost trip continues (12/1/17)
Kentucky 107, UIC 73: Brush with greatness (11/28/17)
EXHIBITION: UIC 107, Olivet Nazarene 83: Rediscovering their mojo (11/24/17)