Flames fall in last-minute heartbreaker

Hayden Humes

Forward Hayden Humes scored 12 points in the Flames’ second-half comeback. Photo: Steve Woltmann

The Flames’ quest for a Horizon League championship ended abruptly Friday night when Green Bay drained a contested three-pointer with less than two seconds remaining.

The shot by Sultan Muhammad lifted the fourth-seeded Phoenix to a shocking 64-63 win over the No. 5 UIC men’s basketball team in the second round of the Horizon League Tournament in Valparaiso.

With the loss, the Flames were eliminated from the league tournament. UIC dropped to 17-15 on the season, while Green Bay improved to 18-14 overall. The Phoenix will take on top-seeded Valparaiso in the semifinals Saturday at 7:30 p.m. UIC will await its possible postseason fate.

“I’m extremely proud of my team. I told them after the game; as much as it hurts now, it really indicates how far this group has come over the course of the season,” said head coach Howard Moore. “They showed a lot of heart today, the kept fighting back and showed a lot of resilience.”

Muhammad’s game-winner was his lone three-pointer of the game. It came after senior point guard Gary Talton sank two free throws with just 7 seconds remaining to give the Flames a 63-61 lead. Muhammad received the ball on the right wing, pulled up and sank the contested three. Senior guard Daniel Barnes’ desperation heave as time expired did not draw iron.

“Green Bay did a great job. They made the last shot to win the game. Hopefully we’ll have the opportunity to keep playing, extend our season in another tournament and give these guys another chance to play together,” Moore said.

The Flames were led by junior forward and Valparaiso native Hayden Humes, who poured in a career-high 23 points on 10-of-12 shooting — he scored 12 points in UIC’s second half comeback. Seniors Josh Crittle and Talton also chipped in with 12 points.

Green Bay was led by Alec Brown, who scored 17 points. He was joined in double figures by point guard Keifer Sykes, who chipped in with 15.

UIC trailed 34-29 at halftime and fell behind by 10 points early in the second half. But the Flames went on a 7-0 run from the 15:45 to 13:16 mark to tie the game, 43-43. Green Bay regained the lead one possession later, and owned a 58-52 advantage with 6:16 remaining.

The Flames again fought back, scoring seven straight points to claim a 59-58 lead with 3:05 left. It marked UIC’s first lead since going up 15-14 early in the first half.

The game was tied 61-61 with just over a minute remaining as the teams traded baskets down the stretch. With 44.1 seconds left and the score still knotted, Green Bay freshman Jordan Fouse missed two free throws, leading to Talton’s free throws that briefly gave UIC the lead.

Green Bay head coach Brian Wardle was attempting to call a timeout on the Phoenix sideline before Muhammad’s game-winner, but the officials did not see or hear him signaling for the timeout.

The play was set up by Sykes streaking up the right sideline. The ball found the hands of Brennan Cougill before Sykes found Muhammad temporarily open in front of the Green Bay bench. He buried the shot, finishing the game 2-of-6 from the floor.

UIC’s postseason resume includes wins over 2012 postseason foes Mercer, Iona, Northwestern, Colorado State, Cleveland State and Milwaukee. In the latest version of the NCAA’s Ratings Percentage Index, the Flames had an RPI of 164. UIC began the season with a 9-1 record, and appeared in the CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top-25 in four-consecutive weeks.

“We’re going to keep preparing as if our season is going to continue,” Moore said. “We’ll give them tomorrow off, but we’ll keep practicing.

“I’ve got to keep these guys hungry and focused. If our phone rings and someone wants to invite us to their tournament, we’ll be more than willing to accept. Hopefully the framework of our season will be enough to show people that this is a very good basketball team.”

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