In a game that had 19 lead changes, UIC endured past Detroit Mercy in an instant classic, 74-69. Both teams shot tremendously well behind the arc, while they struggled from two-point range. The Flames shot just 34.1% from two-point range, while they were a sizzling 45.5% (10-22) from downtown. The host Titans shot a paltry 26.7% from two-point range, while they were an impressive 45% (9-20) from three. The biggest difference in the game, and the reason why the Titans did not make many two-pointers, was because of the Flames stellar defense in blocking 12 shots. Not surprisingly, junior standout Tai Odiase had 5 blocked shots. There was a great sequence less than three minutes into the game, in which Odiase first blocked Corey Allen’s layup attempt, and then quickly recovered to block Jaleel Hogan’s shot from the paint. Then, immediately on the other end, Odiase’s great defense was rewarded as he converted on an easy slam dunk. Odiase, the frontrunner for Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year, added 7 points and 7 rebounds. What is so impressive about the Flames defense was the variety of blocked shots: From help a help defender anticipating a shot by moving from the weak side; to timing it right to block a jump shooter (which is very difficult to do); to a guard sticking with a ball handler and then blocking his shot as he drives to the basket.
Redshirt freshman Dominique Matthews provided much of the early offensive spark for the Flames, as he finished with 19 points. Matthews has been on absolute tear as of late, averaging 19.6 points per game in his last six contests. Freshman Tarkus Ferguson really led the charge in the second half, as he finished with 20 points, including 4-8 from three-point range. Power forward Clint Robinson was the Flames most efficient player, finishing with 8 points and 8 rebounds in just 12 minutes of play. The Titans were led by freshman star Corey Allen, who had a game-high 21 points. The H-League’s best three-point shooter continued to exhibit his long-range prowess, as he went 5-10 from downtown. The Titans were up by as many as 8 points on two separate occasions, but the Flames quickly narrowed the gap at both points in the game. Titan big men Jaleel Hogan and Gerald Blackshear were solid, combining for 22 points and 15 rebounds. But the Titans interior defense gave up crucial baskets late in the game in the paint, which proved to be a big difference. The Flames also made some crucial free throws down the stretch, going 6-8 in the final two and a half minutes of the game.
This was a very entertaining game that featured two young teams, who should be significantly better next season. But both are still very good right now, and will be difficult match-ups for any opponent in the upcoming Horizon League Tournament. UIC improves to 14-13 overall and 7-7 in league play, which will almost assuredly earn them a sixth place finish in the final league standings. Don’t forget that they are prevailing without their superstar guard Dikembe Dixson. Detroit Mercy falls to 6-20 overall and 4-10 in league play. Seeing as they are currently one of four teams with 4 conference wins, the Titans will likely finish anywhere from 7th to 10th place. On Sunday afternoon, the Titans will host Valparaiso, while the Flames will travel north on I-75 to play at Oakland.