Flames fall to No. 2 Green Bay in Horizon League semifinals
Two thrilling comeback victories against Oakland and Wright State took the sixth-seeded UIC men’s basketball team to the semifinals of the 2015 Horizon League tournament, but the Flames were stopped by No. 2 Green Bay Saturday, 70-56.
“I am very proud of how this team finished the season,” said head coach Howard Moore of UIC’s first appearance in the Horizon semifinals since 2008.
The Flames (10-24) owned a 30-29 lead at halftime, but the Phoenix (24-7) shot nearly 60 percent in the second half to advance to the conference title game Tuesday.
Senior Jay Harris paced the Flames with 18 points and five assists, while freshman Tai Odaise scored a career-high 14. Senior Marc Brown chipped in 12 points and shot 9-of-10 from the free throw line.
“We played a great first half,” Moore said. “Our defense slipped a little in the second half and Keifer Sykes took over.” Sykes, two-time Horizon League Player of the Year, scored 23 of his game-high 30 points in the final period.
The Phoenix jumped out to an 18-11 lead by the 11:08 mark of the first half, but a 9-2 run by UIC knotted the score at 20-20. From that point it was a back-and-forth battle ending in favor of the Flames, 30-29, at the break. The first half witnessed six ties and five lead changes.
Odiase scored the first two points of the second half to put UIC up three, but Green Bay went on a 14-2 run to grab hold of a 43-34 lead with 13:37 remaining.
The Flames pulled to within seven after two foul shots from Brown. But once Green Bay went ahead 49-38 with 9:29 on the clock, it kept a double-digit lead for the rest of the night.
“We had a very challenging year, but these guys kept fighting and never quit,” Moore said. “We try and do more than just teach these young men how to play basketball. We try to prepare them for the game of life. I cannot say enough about our three seniors and I know they will be successful in whatever they choose to do.”
Harris ends his college basketball career with 1,127 points, 296 assists, 170 three-pointers and 92 steals. He is ranked first on UIC’s single-season leaderboard for made free throws with 159. He set the program’s single-season record for free throw percentage with 89.8 percent.
Brown became the 21st player in program history to record 1,000 career points as he ends his UIC tenure with 1,022, 20th all-time on the Flames’ career scoring list. Brown ranks fifth all-time in made free throws with 323.
Senior Ahman Fells saved his best college season for last as he more than quadrupled his point total from last season (52-247) and started in the final 21 games. The Chicago native shot nearly 40 percent from behind the arc this season and totaled a team-best 52.4 percent field-goal shooting mark.