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Kreps gets free ride as Flames beat Titans

UIC PROVES IT’S TOUGH ENOUGH

December 31, 2009

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Robo Kreps scored a career-high 31 points in UIC’s Horizon League victory over Detroit.

After a few minutes at the UIC Pavilion on Thursday afternoon, two things were clear—Robo Kreps was making a living at the free-throw line and the host Flames were winning the hustle points.

Kreps finished an amazing 18-for-18 from the free-throw line and scored a career-best 31 points as UIC earned its first Horizon League victory of the season with a 60-56 win over a normally hard-nosed Detroit squad.

The Flames (5-8, 1-2) proved to be more aggressive, getting the foul line 31 times as opposed to 14 for the Titans. UIC was 25-for-31 (81 percent) from the stripe, offsetting a 28 percent shooting effort from the field.

“We shoot a lot of free throws every day, probably up to 50 for everybody,” said Kreps, who set new UIC team and UIC Pavilion records with the 18 makes. “That’s one thing the coaches are really big on [in practice]. I’ve been staying after practice the whole season to work on free throws.”

Defensively, the Flames continued to look sharp, holding the Titans to 33 percent shooting in the first half (41 percent for the game) and forcing 23 turnovers.

“The win was a credit to our defense,” Kreps said. “There were a lot of loose balls out there. When you get those, that’s a lot of extra possessions for your team. Even though we weren’t making a lot shots, it still stopped them from getting shots. Our defensive intensity was great today, and that’s what got it done.”

The Flames’ primary seniors, Jeremy Buttell and Spencer Stewart, didn’t score a lot, but they helped in other areas. Buttell grabbed a game-high 12 rebounds and Stewart chipped in with seven rebounds and seven assists.

Chase Simon scored 14 points to lead the Titans (9-5, 2-1). Thomas Kennedy contributed a double-double of 11 points and 10 rebounds and Chicago native Donovan Foster chipped in 10 points and three assists off the bench.

Despite their poor shooting, the Flames never trailed even though the Titans gave them a major scare in the final seconds.

UIC led 58-56 in the final minute when it looked for an insurance basket, but after a scramble with the shot clock running down, the Flames couldn’t get a shot off.

The Titans had a chance to tie or win the game on their final possession, but Birton blocked a close-in attempt by Xavier Keeling with 4 seconds left. Keeling got the ball back, but Kreps poked the ball away for a steal and was fouled with :00.2 left and he made both free throws to cap off his career game.

“We talked before the game that we needed to have a great team effort against Detroit, and we got that,” UIC coach Jimmy Collins said. “We started off really, really well, we rebounded the ball when we had to, we got loose balls when we had to, and the team effort on defense was great.”

UIC came out scrappy and aggressive from the opening tip, controlling the tempo and frustrating Detroit early and often.

Kreps scored six points in the Flames’ game-opening 12-2 spurt, which saw the Titans turn the ball over eight times.

“They came out aggressive,” Detroit coach Ray McCallum said. “They got into us like nobody has since we started with Cal (on Nov. 11). They sped us up, forced us into turnovers and poor decisions.”

Detroit almost appeared to be sleepwalking. Sophomore center Eli Holman missed two straight dunks on one early possession and never recovered mentally.

Holman committed an offensive foul for his third personal with 12:10 left in the first half. He was then given a technical for mouthing off after the call, forcing Titans coach Ray McCallum to pull him. Holman did not play the rest of the game.

Holman entered the game averaging almost a double-double with 13.5 points and 9.9 rebounds per game.

“You’ve got to be ready to play,” McCallum said. “The Horizon League is tough. We’ve got a lot of guys going through it for the first time and he’s one of those guys. He didn’t respond the right way and we’ve got to learn from it.”

Detroit clawed back to within 22-19, but UIC scored eight straight points, including five from Kreps, to open up its biggest lead at 11 with 2:07 before halftime.

The Titans went on an 8-0 early in the second half to close within 33-31, but UIC had an answer every time Detroit got close.

When the Titans closed to within 54-51, Stewart hit shots on consecutive possessions to stretch the Flames’ lead back to 58-52 with 3:23 to play.

Foster hit a three-pointer with 2:21 left to cut the gap to three. Then Simon split a pair of free throws with 49.8 seconds remaining to set up the frenetic final seconds.

“When you play a team like the Titans, you have to have some toughness,” Collins said. “We identified the guys that will play that way, and we’ve got to continue to cultivate them and talk to them about that style of play.”

The Flames’ play is beginning to make opponents take notice.

“It was an important game for our team,” McCallum said. “We had a chance to go 3-0. Watching UIC, Jimmy’s got those guys playing hard and scrappy.”

FLAMES FLICKERS: Kreps’ 18-for-18 free-throw shooting performance set two records. He passed the previous team mark of 17 set by Josh Mayo (March 6, 2009 vs. Cleveland State) and Varis Purkilatis (Jan. 11, 1957 vs. Aurora). He also broke the UIC Pavilion record 15, which was shared by the Flames’ Anthony Coomes (Jan. 31, 1998) and Western Illinois’ J.D. Dykstra (Feb. 14, 1985). ... Kreps has made his last 25 free throws. ... Foster, chasing a loose ball late in the first half, jumped on the scorer’s table and flew into some unoccupied chairs in the front row. ... It appears that UIC freshman walk-on guard Arthur Wiley has left the team.

UP NEXT: UIC wraps its three-game homestand with contest against Wright State at the Pavilion on Saturday afternoon.

The Raiders are 9-5 overall and 2-1 in the Horizon League after a 53-52 loss at Loyola on Thursday.

Live coverage is available on the Horizon League Network at horizonleaguenetwork.tv (video) and WMVP-AM 1000 and espnchicago.com (audio).

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