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Flames’ grade: Another incomplete

FLAT 1ST HALF COSTLY FOR UIC

December 26, 2014

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UIC guard D’Juan Miller handles the ball as Northwestern’s Tre Demps defends in the first half Monday.

EVANSTON—When Northwestern's 7-foot junior center Alex Olah hit a 3-pointer early in Monday's game, coach Howard Moore and the UIC Flames knew it was going to be another long afternoon of trying to climb out of a big hole.

Olah took advantage of the Flames' undersized and undermanned front line, finishing with 17 points, seven rebounds and three blocks, as the Wildcats defeated UIC 63-46 at Welsh-Ryan Arena.

After Lance Whitaker hit a 17-foot jumper, it was all Olah and the Wildcats (8-4). Olah responded with a pair of easy layups to ignite the spurt. Olah then drained a 3-pointer and converted another layup as NU scored 16 straight points and the Flames (3-10) didn’t make a challenge until deep into the second half.

“I thought Northwestern came out with a lot more fire and grit than we did,” UIC coach Howard Moore said. “I was disappointed that our guys waited to play until the start of the second half. That’s something that this team has been really struggling with over the course of the season, grasping the sense that you’ve got play 40 minutes. There’s another game where we came out a little flat.”

Ahman Fells hit a short jumper to end the Flames' drought of 7:31, but it never got any better for the Flames in the first half.

“I was really proud of how we started the game,” Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. “We came out with great intensity. Our defense was great and we got some easy baskets.”

It didn’t help that UIC was missing its leading scorer in fifth-year senior Jay Harris, who injured his right foot during a recent practice. He was wearing a protective boot on the sideline.

“We missed his leadership and we obviously missed his scoring, the ability to spread the floor.” said Moore, who hoped that Harris would be ready for Sunday afternoon’s game at Bradley.

UIC finished the first half at 17.1 percent from the field as the Wildcats took a 31-16 lead into halftime. NU shot a blistering 56.5 percent in the opening half, though the Flames finally cooled off Olah a bit.

“We just told Tai [Odiase] to stop letting him catch the ball so easily in the post,” Moore said. “That’s a tough challenge for a freshman, 13 games into his college career. We remember when Olah was young trying to guard Josh Crittle (two years ago) and struggling against him. He’s matured and developed into a better player. Tai can learn from this. He won’t another player like this in our league. Olah was very effective inside.”

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UIC senior guard Marc Brown puts up a shot in the lane as Northwestern’s Sanjay Lumpkin, left, and Vic Law try to defend.

Junior transfer guard D’Juan Miller, who led the Flames with 13 points and seven assists, finally gave UIC a spark to start the second half, hitting a pair of layups and mid-range jumper to cut the deficit to 33-22 and forcing NU to call timeout.

Vic Law scored a pair of baskets to help the Wildcats regain a 14-point advantage at 42-28 with 12:10 remaining. The Flames had one last good run left as Miller hit a step-back 3-pointer and junior forward Jason McClellan drilled a 3-pointer of his own to cap a 10-3 run and close the deficit to 45-38 with 6:47 to play.

McClellan hit another triple to put UIC to within 51-43 with 4:03, but Sanjay Lumpkin answered at the other end with a 3-pointer to boost the Wildcats’ lead back into double digits for the rest of the game.

Although the Flames improved their defense on Olah after Northwestern’s early blitz, they allowed freshman guard Bryant McIntosh to rack up a career-high 22 points on 7-for-9 from the field and 6-for-6 from the free-throw line.

“The last five minutes we played really good basketball,” Collins said. “We got the stops and McIntosh really controlled the game, being able to make plays at the end of the shot clock.”

FLAMES FLICKERS: The two longest tenured Flames combined for a rough afternoon as senior guard Marc Brown and junior forward Jake Wiegand combined for 13 points on 4-for-24 shooting. … UIC ended up shooting a season-low 25 percent for the game. … The Flames did hold the advantage on the boards, 36-33, including 18-4 on the offensive end. Wiegand grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds. … UIC’s three-game winning streak at Welsh-Ryan Arena came to an end. … NU took a 5-4 lead in the all-time series after snapping UIC’s four-game winning streak last season.

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