Chill in the air
Flames go cold late in humbling home loss
By Mike Pankow
February 13, 2017
Cleveland State came limping into the UIC Pavilion with losses in five of its last six games overall and four straight on the road, but it was the Flames who were limping at the end on the wrong side of a 66-63 decision.
The Flames (13-13, 6-7) missed a golden opportunity to cement themselves into a favorable spot at next month’s Horizon League tournament in Detroit by going without a field goal in the final 5:55 as Cleveland State scored eight of the game’s final 10 points.
Junior center Tai Odiase had a solid afternoon, scoring 17 points on 7-for-11 shooting with seven rebounds and three blocks. Redshirt freshman Dominique Matthews scored in double figures for the ninth time in 10 games, finishing with 12 points, and true freshman Marcus Ottey added 12 points off the bench for the Flames.
Things appeared to be fine for UIC, which led by as many as 10 in the first half. The Flames soared to a 31-21 lead with a 13-2 run that including 3-pointers by Ottey and Kyle Guice.
However, one of the things about being the youngest team in the nation is sometimes lacking the killer instinct veteran teams possess.
UIC’s defense was up to task for the remainder of the first half, allowing the Vikings (8-18, 4-10) to crawl back into the game. Bobby Word (13 points) hit a pair of free throws with 5.2 seconds before halftime as CSU closed to within 39-35.
“It was a typical Horizon League game,” UIC coach Steve McClain said. “You knew it was going to be a close game. I give (CSU coach) Gary (Waters) and his kids credit. We got after them, then they got back in the game going into halftime.
“We lost the game in the first half when we didn’t guard them as well we should have.”
The Vikings gave the Flames a serious jolt to start the second half. Rob Edwards, who scored 10 of his 12 points in the final 20 minutes, had four points during a 13-2 blitz that gave CSU a 48-41 lead with 15:28 left.
“We pride ourselves on playing defense,” Odiase said. “We held them to 54 points the last time we played them. We can score on anybody if we move the ball. We turned the ball over a lot too and let them back into the game.”
UIC committed 18 turnovers for the game and shot just 30.4 percent in the second half, but the Flames still were in good position to win the game on an off night.
UIC surged back ahead with a 14-5 run. Matthews gave the Flames a 59-58 lead on a floater in the lane with 5:56 left. Tarkus Ferguson hit a pair of free throws for a 61-58 lead with 4:24, but the Flames then went stone cold.
“We’re a team that likes to move the ball a lot,” Odiase said. “In the second half, the ball just stuck. We weren’t swinging it like we were in the first half and our offense got stale.”
After Jibri Blount gave the Vikings a 62-61 with a free throw with 2:17 left, Kasheem Thomas knocked down a 10-foot jumper and Kenny Carpenter hit a floater while the Flames came up empty. CSU took a 66-61 lead with 47.1 seconds remaining.
The Vikings missed three front ends of 1-and-1s, leaving the door open for UIC. Ottey hit a pair of free throws with 15.6 seconds left to pull the Flames to within three.
Word missed the front end with 14.1 seconds left and Ferguson brought the ball up, but he misfired on an off-balance 3-pointer with 5 seconds to play.
McClain said that was not the ideal shot he wanted in that situation.
“I was getting ready to call timeout,” McClain said. “[Ferguson] got caught in between. All you do after the game is go learn from it.”
The Flames even had one more chance after Blount missed another free throw, but Ferguson’s desperate heave was stolen away in the front court.
“(Cleveland State) is very physical with you and you’ve got to play through the bumps,” McClain said. “Young guys struggle with that. Some guys got a little leery to shoot. That’s guys that are still trying to figure what is good and what is bad.”
Now the Flames are set to play four of their final five games on the road, starting this weekend with a swing to the Detroit metro area with games against Detroit Mercy and Oakland. Four of those games are teams ahead of the Flames in the standings.
“They’re all tough games. There are no gimmes,” McClain said. “It’s just the way the league is. We get to go on the road. I think we’ve been really good on the road. That’s what conference play is. There’s no question we’ve got a tough finish.”
FLAMES FLICKERS: UIC shot 56 percent in the first half, but ended up at 43.8 percent after a rough second half. … Freshman guard Godwin Boahen was dressed, but he was held out of his second straight game because of a pair of lower-body injuries. … Redshirt junior guard Lance Whitaker missed his 10th straight game because of an upper-body injury. … The Flames did decent work against Edwards, CSU’s leading scorer who entered at 16.0 points per game. They held to four field goals and forced him to commit six turnovers. … CSU shot 47.1 percent for the game. … Saturday’s loss was the first against a Horizon League that currently sits below the Flames in the standings.