UIC men’s basketball draws crowd as McClain era begins
UIC men’s basketball led San Francisco with less than two minutes, but the Dons pulled off a 78-75 win in front of a raucous crowd of more than 4,000 fans at the UIC Pavilion Friday.
In their first game of the Steve McClain era, 12 different UIC players took the floor. Five were making their collegiate debut, including Dikembe Dixson, who led the squad with 13 points.
“I was really proud of our kids’ effort tonight,” said head coach McClain. “We played hard.”
Fan support was a factor, he added.
“I can’t say enough about the crowd we had. It was great,” McClain said. “My challenge to them is to keep coming back and keep this up. I’m really proud of our fans. All I can tell them is to keep growing with this team and keep helping this team.”
The Flames struggled to find an offensive rhythm in the early going. UIC failed to connect on its first six attempts from the field before junior Najeal Youngscored inside. The offense soon found its way, however, and a three-pointer from senior Paris Burns capped off an 11-5 run that gave UIC a 15-13 edge with 12:40 to go in the opening stanza.
UIC built its largest lead of the night, a five-point cushion with 7:22 to go in the half, when Lance Whitaker connected on the first of two three-pointers he sank that night. The teams traded brief runs until the ended with the Dons ahead 38-36.
The Flames chipped away at San Francisco’s five-point lead in the second half. Dixson’s triple tied the score at 49-49 before Jake Wiegand corralled an offensive rebound and put it back in to give UIC its first lead of the half, 51-49.
The Dons owned a one-point lead with about seven and a half minutes remaining, but Wiegand made an up-and-under move inside to give his team the edge. After baskets from Gabe Snider and Markese McGuire, UIC led 64-60 with 5:56 left.
San Francisco tied the game at 73-all when Uche Ofoegbu scored an old-fashioned three-point play with 1:57 remaining. Nate Renfro converted a layup 30 seconds later and the Dons did not trail again.
UIC had a final chance after calling timeout with 4.5 seconds to go, but could not convert.
UIC committed only 10 turnovers in the game, but shot 36.8 percent from the floor and 61.1 percent from the free-throw line. The defense forced 16 miscues by the Dons and sophomore Tai Odiase blocked a career-high five shots.
The Flames will hit the road for the first time Tuesday against Western Illinois at 7 p.m. The game will be televised live on ESPN3 and broadcast on ESPN1000 Chicago.
UIC returns to the Pavilion Nov. 24 against the Roosevelt Lakers.
Admission is free to UIC students at the door with valid i-card. For more information on purchasing tickets, call 312-413-UIC1 or visit ticketmaster.com