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Helping hand

Ferguson’s 12 assists lead dominant, balanced Flames

By Mike Pankow

January 11, 2018

Mike Pankow/Whoosh!

UIC sophomore point guard Tarkus Ferguson, who handed out a career-best 12 assists Wednesday night, is guarded by Green Bay’s Sandy Cohen III.

What a difference Tarkus Ferguson makes.

While the sophomore point guard missed nine games last month with a stress fracture in his right foot, UIC struggled to find itself, going 3-6 in that span.

With Ferguson back in the lineup, running the offense and helping to spearhead the defense, the Flames won their second straight game Wednesday night. The Belleville, Ill., native tied his career-high with 12 assists as UIC was never challenged in an 84-73 win over Green Bay at the Pavilion.

Ferguson didn’t score on 0-for-5 shooting, but he had plenty of help from teammates in that department.

“People wonder what having Tark out there means for our team,” UIC coach Steve McClain said. “He had 12 assists. He didn’t score a point, but he contributed to a bunch.”

Dikembe Dixson scored 23 points on 10-for-12 shooting while Marcus Ottey continued his strong run with 16 points for the Flames (7-10, 2-2 Horizon League), who shot 58.2 percent in winning consecutive games for the first time this season.

Godwin Boahen also scored 16 points, his most points since a game-high 17 against Kentucky on Nov. 26.

“With Tark back, it allows Marcus and Godwin to be who they are,” McClain said. “Godwin knocked down some shots tonight. It puts us in a position now that we have three point guards out there and that can be a real thing for us to make us every better. I like the fact that we played a lot of guys a lot of minutes. We had pretty balanced scoring.”

With less pressure of having to run the team, plus improved health after dealing with a concussion a few weeks ago, Boahen shot 4-for-5 from the field with three 3-pointers.

“I think Ferg played a part in it, because he distributes the ball so well,” Boahen said. “But also I’ve been working with (Assistant) Coach Seth (Cooper). It’s a just mental thing. He told me every great shooter gets into a slump. Just keep shooting. When it rains, it pours.”

And that was theme of the night for the Flames as they overwhelmed the Phoenix (7-12, 2-4) like a tidal wave from the start.

Boahen scored five points, including a 3-pointer, to help open a 15-2 lead with 12:29 left in the half.

UIC kept stretching the lead after that. Dixson stole the ball and went coast-to-coast for a dunk and Ottey scored a layup off another steal as the Flames made Green Bay cry for mercy. Phoenix coach Linc Darner signaled for a timeout and the Flames were bouncing all over the court in celebration while heading for their bench with the score 25-6 with 8:45 left in the first half.

Mike Pankow/Whoosh!

UIC players Dikembe Dixson (left) and Clint Robinson celebrate after the Flames opened the game with a 25-6 lead.

“The past few games we’ve started out badly and teams would get up on us,” Dixson said. “One of the things we talked about was coming out and throwing the first punch.”

After Green Bay offered some resistance, Boahen knocked down a 3 from the top of key to close out a dominant first half with the Flames ahead 42-25 at the break.

“We had the right mind-set,” said McClain, whose team carried the momentum it gained from the second half at IUPUI last week. “We knew that if we guarded, that would be our best offense. Our best offense in the first half was our defense.

“The run was really important, because Green Bay has a very explosive offensive team. You know they’re going to keep trying to score. Linc’s teams play hard and they’re going to keep trying to score.”

The Flames slammed the door with a 14-2 run in the second half, including a pair of 3s by Dixson and three layups by an aggressive Jordan Blount, for a 56-31 lead with 15:53 remaining.

“We came out and got up 20,” Boahen said. “We haven’t done that this year. I just feel like we’re growing together as a team and the best is yet to come.”

Blount matched a career-high with 13 points to go seven rebounds and some serious floor burn. His passion and intensity led to a testy situation with 8:53 left in the game.

As he was trying to tie up Khalil Small on a rebound attempt, Blount was called for a foul on Small. Both players were aggressive in going after the ball and Small got in the face of some of the Flames. Darner was whistled for a technical as he stepped onto the court in attempt to protect his players and having the situation escalate. Just after that, the officials whistled a double technical on Blount and Small.

“That’s JB for you,” said Dixson of Blount’s aggressiveness. “He does that in practice. He’s the motor guy.”

UIC coasted to the finish with Green Bay making the score look respectable after a late 10-0 run.

“I like where we’re heading,” McClain said. “As I told them, it’s one game. In this league you’ve got to be ready to play every night because there isn’t a lot of difference between anybody right now.”

FLAMES FLICKERS: Tai Odiase collected eight points, six rebounds and four blocks for the Flames. He now has 301 career blocks, just eight behind the Horizon League mark of Youngstown State’s Damian Eargle. … UIC had 21 turnovers, but McClain said they weren’t “killer,” because of the Flames’ high shooting percentage and solid defense. The Flames did have a season-high 20 assists. … Small scored a game-high 27 points on 11-for-21 shooting for Green Bay while Sandy Cohen III, a transfer from Marquette, added 22 points. … The Phoenix shot just 34.4 percent in the first half in falling behind by 17 at the half. … UIC defeated Green Bay for the second straight time after snapping a 10-game losing streak in the series with a 79-70 in last March’s Horizon League tournament in Detroit.


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