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What a bummer!

Flames falter late, fall in Horizon tourney opener

March 6, 2019

Whoosh! file photo

Tarkus Ferguson scored 22 points and hit six 3-pointers against Green Bay on Tuesday night.

One thing will hang over UIC's head during the offseason after its NCAA tournament drought reached 15 years -- no lead is safe against Green Bay.

In three games against the Phoenix this season, the Flames led for 67 minutes, 46 seconds, 56.5 percent of the time, but in the end came out 0 for 3 by just a combined 11 points.

UIC led for just slightly more than half of its Horizon League tournament opener at Green Bay, but a five-point lead with four minutes evaporated in an 82-77 loss Tuesday night at the Resch Center.

"Anyone that watched the three games that we and Green Bay played, you watched two teams that really fight and really play hard," UIC coach Steve McClain said. "Both teams made mistakes, both teams made big plays. We just didn't make a couple at the end."

The loss ended all hopes for an NCAA tournament or NIT bid for the Flames (16-16) and left them desperately hoping for a call from the CBI or the CIT. UIC made the CIT Championship game last season before losing to Northern Colorado and made the CBI quarterfinals in 2017.

All-Conference forward Sandy Cohen III scored 21 points to lead four double-digit scorers for the Phoenix (17-15), who advanced to Monday's Horizon League semifinal against Wright State at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit. One-time UIC recruiting target JayQuan McCloud added 19 points for Green Bay.

On the day he was named to the All-Horizon League second team, Tarkus Ferguson scored 22 points, including six 3-pointers, to go with seven rebounds and six assists to lead the Flames. Godwin Boahen contributed 17 points and five assists for UIC, which played reasonably well, shooting 46.9 percent and committing just 13 turnovers.

Boahen drilled a 3-pointer with 4:13 remaining to give UIC a 74-69 lead, but the Phoenix closed the game with a 13-3 run to douse the Flames.

Cohen III converted a three-point to tie the game a 74-74 with 2:49 left. After a Tank Hemphill steal, Lemont High School graduate P.J. Pipes hit a jumper to give the Phoenix the lead with 2:32 showing.

Then neither team could score for a bit. Boahen had a chance to give UIC the lead, but he missed a 3-pointer with 51 seconds to play.

Cohen III made a pair of free throws for a 78-74 lead, but Ferguson hit his sixth 3-pointer to cut the deficit to one with 16.3 seconds remaining.

McCloud made pair of free throws on the other end for a three-point lead, but the door was still open for UIC.

Boahen had the ball on the left wing where he pressured by Green Bay's defense. The ball was knocked out of bounds with 6.4 seconds left. The officials initially ruled that the ball went off Pipes and that the Flames would maintain possession. However, after a replay review, officials determined Boahen touched the ball last, awarding the ball to Green Bay in a back-breaking reversal.

"They said it was out of bounds off us. I couldn't see it," McClain said. "Those guys have the videos. I hope they don't miss it then."

McCloud buried two free throws for the final margin and the Flames simply ran out of time.

"I told my kids I'm proud of them," McClain said. "They had to play three straight road games to end the year. I thought they came in with the right mindset and put themselves in a position to have an opportunity to win."

Whoosh! file photo

Godwin Boahen had 17 points Tuesday night against Green Bay.

UIC fell behind early but went on a 10-0 run, including a 3-pointer by Jamie Ahale (9 points) and a tip-in by Jacob Wiley (8 points, 6 rebounds), to take its largest lead of the game at 25-18 with 6:59 left in the first half.

The Flames led the rest of the half until Cohen hit a jumper in the final seconds as Green Bay went into the locker room ahead 35-34, the first time in three meetings the Phoenix led at the break.

In the second half, UIC looked poised to take control and book its trip to Detroit. Ferguson drilled a 3-pointer to put the Flames up 66-60 with 7:46 remaining.

After Green Bay missed a pair of 3-pointers, UIC had a chance to extend the lead, but Ahale missed a wide-open 3 after strong offensive possession and the Phoenix started knifing back into the game.

A huge factor for Green Bay was the play of Joliet West graduate Trevian Bell, who scored 13 of his career-high-tying 15 points in the second half. He helped the Phoenix keep it close until the final minutes.

"Trevian Bell stepped up and made shots," McClain said. "To be a really good defensive team, you've got to try and figure out who their top scorers are and now we're going to make someone make shots and he did. I give him credit. Cohen is hard to deal with and McCloud is hard to deal with. You've got to help on them and you're going to give up another shot. It's part of playing the odds."

With four other teams advancing to "Motor City Madness," the Flames will wait and see if there is any more basketball to be played this season.

"Hopefully we're going to get an opportunity to play in one of those other postseason events," McClain said. "We don't have a senior on our team. Those kind of things help build the culture of winning with practice and preparing."

Either way, McClain reflected on the state of the program since he took over four seasons ago.

"You look at where the UIC program was when I walked in four years ago and for the first time in (15 years), we had back-to-back seasons with double digit wins in conference play. I'm not trying to change something that took a couple of years and went bad, I'm trying to change something that hasn't been very good for quite a while. Marcus (Ottey), Tarkus and Godwin came to UIC when I was just selling them on getting this thing better. And we have gotten better. You have to go back a long ways to find a UIC team that looks like we look. Yet I know we lost three very good players off last year's team, so it was going to be another trial for us. I can't say enough how far I think we've gotten."

FLAMES FLICKERS: Ferguson's six 3-pointers gave him an even 100 on the season, a single season record for UIC. ... The loss was the 15th straight for the Flames at the Resch Center, dating to the 2003-04 season. UIC's win in Green Bay last season was at the Kress Center, the Phoenix's on-campus arena. ... Ottey finished with eight points while Jordan Blount scored all seven of his points in the first half. ... Ahale played a career-high 27 minutes. ... McClain addressed the trend of UIC often being on the wrong side of a free-throw disparity during his postgame press conference: "It's hard to win when you only shoot six and they shoot 25 because they were playing man-to-man (defense) too."

POSTGAME VIDEOS (courtesy UIC Flames on YouTube):

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