Flames topple Oakland, head to Horizon semifinals

 

The sixth-seeded UIC men’s basketball team (10-23) faces No. 2 seed Green Bay (23-7) today in the Horizon League semifinals after the Flames knocked off No. 3 Oakland by a final score of 72-69 in the second round Friday.

The game, which begins at 6 p.m. in Valparaiso, Indiana, will be UIC’s first trip to the Horizon semifinals since 2008.

Friday’s win, UIC’s first victory against the Golden Grizzlies, (16-16), improves the Flames’ Horizon League all-time tournament record to 19-18.

“These guys have it in their eyes right now,” said head coach Howard Moore. “We fought, scratched and found a way to get it done. This group just refuses to lose and they stepped up in a big way tonight.

“I am so proud of my players for continuing to fight through adversity and never give up.”

 

Tai Odiase, left, and Jay Harris after UIC men's basketball win against Oakland

Tai Odiase, left, and Jay Harris after Friday’s win. Harris iced the win with two from the foul line in the final seconds. Photo: Horizon League

UIC faced a 15-point deficit late in the first half before executing a 27-6 run, then prevailing in a gripping second-half battle that witnessed 11 lead changes.

The Flames shot 55.6 percent (15-of-27) in the second half after hitting 28.6 percent (8-of-28) in the opening stanza. UIC’s defense scored 20 points off 12 Oakland turnovers and held first team All-League point guard Kahlil Felder to 7-of-25 shooting.

After senior Jay Harris began the game with a three-pointer, Oakland rattled off 17 straight points to grab an early 17-3 lead. Harris snapped UIC’s six-minute scoring drought with another triple at the 12:51 mark.

The Grizzlies built their lead to 26-11 with 7:12 left in the first half before UIC mounted a 14-1 run to pull within two (27-25) with 2:06 remaining in the period. Dante Williams gave Oakland a 30-25 halftime advantage with a three-ball at the 1:50 mark. Williams finished with 21 points on 6-of-7 three-point shooting.

UIC carried its momentum into the second half with a 13-2 run, claiming a 38-32 edge by the 16:28 mark. The Grizzlies knotted the score at 38-38 with back-to-back three-pointers from Williams and Felder.

The final 15 minutes of the game fell witness to eight lead changes and six ties, with neither team holding more than a two-possession lead.

The Flames took hold of their second six-point advantage of the night (62-56) with 1:56 remaining after UIC netted seven straight points. Twelve seconds later, Felder answered with a triple, but freshman Tai Odiase countered with a two-handed jam at the other end.

Tai Odiase catches a rebound against Oakland

Tai Odiase made a career-high 11 rebounds and added four blocked shots. Photo: Horizon League

Williams pulled Oakland to within one of UIC (64-63) with 41 seconds remaining after he converted a four-point play.

OU’s Nick Daniels was whistled for an intentional foul on senior Ahman Fells. Fells sank 1-of-2 from the foul line for a 65-63 UIC lead with 39 ticks on the clock.

Junior Jason McClellan gave the Flames a 67-63 edge with 26 seconds left after he made two shots from the free throw line. Felder answered with a three-point play, pulling OU to within one (67-66) with 21 seconds to play. Harris made the score 69-66 after he was fouled on the in-bounds pass, then drained both foul shots.

With nine seconds left, Odiase delivered a crucial blocked shot against Felder and grabbed the rebound. He made 1-of-2 from the charity stripe after he was fouled, giving UIC a four-point lead (70-66).

Felder again brought Oakland to within one (70-69) of UIC with a deep triple from the top of the key with five seconds left. Harris, the league’s top foul shooter, was sent back to the free throw line after a quick foul and sank the pair to ice the game.

Redshirt freshman Lance Whitaker gave UIC solid play with seven points and seven rebounds in a career-best 33 minutes of action. Fells tallied 11 points and five rebounds.

Harris sank four threes and scored a team-high 20 points, while Brown totaled 19 and surpassed 1,000 for his career. Odiase secured his second double-double of the season with 11 points and a career-high 11 rebounds and added four blocked shots to his stat line, giving him 46 on the season to rank eighth all-time on UIC’s single-season leaderboard.

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