UNIVERSITY VILLAGE- After winning their previous two games -including their conference opener against Youngstown State on Friday night- the Illinois-Chicago Flames (5-12 overall, 1-1 Horizon League) had plenty of momentum heading into Sunday’s conference tilt against the Cleveland State Vikings (8-8, 2-0 HL).
Unfortunately all of that momentum went out the window almost immediately after tip off at the UIC Pavilion. CSU made things look way too easy as they cruised to a 74-69 victory virtually uncontested.
The first half set the tone for the rest of the game as CSU made one shot after another with very little resistance from the Flames. Cleveland State shot for 75-percent from the floor in the first half alone compared to UIC’s 39-percent.
The Vikings slowed up a little bit in the first half as they finished the game shooting 59-percent (26-of-44), and 50-percent from three-point range (6-of-12), but the first half did the damage.
The Flames only made 23-of-61 field goal attempts (37-percent), and just 5-of-20 shots from beyond the ark (25-percent). Leading the way for UIC was senior guard Marc Brown who led all scorers with 21 points. He also grabbed nine rebounds, and pitched in a blocked shot along with a steal.
Senior forward Ahman Fells and senior guard Jay Harris were the only other Flames players to finish in double figures with 13 points each. All five Cleveland State starters managed to score in double figures, the effort was led by forwards Anton Grady (junior) and Marlin Mason (senior) who combined for 30 points, 11 rebounds, 11-of-17 shooting, four assists, and seven blocks.
The CSU defense frustrated the Illinois-Chicago offense all day. No one was more frustrated than Flames junior forward Jake Wiegand. Midway through the second half, Wiegand got tied up with CSU’s Grady underneath the basket while battling for a rebound.
After the officials blew the whistle to stop play, Wiegand shoved Grady which brought in CSU guard Charlie Lee who was apparently shoved by Wiegand as well. The whole incident was caught on camera and as a result, Wiegand was hit with two technical fouls and was ejected from the game. Lee and Grady got one technical each.
When asked about possible further punishment for Wiegand, UIC head coach Howard Moore said after the game that he wouldn’t comment or make a decision on the issue until he reviewed the tape. But perhaps the Horizon League could levy their own punishment against Wiegand.
Aside from that; in addition to limiting the Flames offense, the Vikings also forced 13 UIC turnovers, blocked 10 total shots, had six steals as a team, and limited the Flames to just 28 points in the paint.
On the defensive side, UIC surrendered numerous uncontested baskets to CSU. Including 32 points in the paint, 10 points off of turnovers, and at times looked lost as the Vikings drained shot after shot.
During the preseason, coach Moore vowed that his team would return to their defensive fundamentals this season. But after this game, Moore promised that his team would revisit those fundamentals during practices for the upcoming week.
But despite the adversity in this difficult season, Moore still tries to keep his team positive and upbeat.
“As short-handed as we were (Sunday), I was proud of the fight they (the Flames) showed” Moore said in his post-game press conference. He added, “I don’t like moral victories at all, but I got to tell this group the way it is. And the way it is, is that they fought.”
He also noted that things could have been worse…..
“As short-handed as we were, we could have easily lost this game by 30 (points.) Our guys stayed with it, they just kept battling…. And we tried to get it done together. There’s a lot of positive things they can pull from this.”
Sooner or later, all of that positive thinking will have to turn into victories. And getting those victories will not come easily. The Flames will undoubtedly have to make good use of their practice time before their next game.
On Thursday UIC will travel to Valparaiso (13-3, 0-1), a place where they have never won during Howard Moore’s tenure. The Crusaders are coached by Valpo legend Bryce Drew of the great Drew basketball family.
They are a team that loves to shoot and can make defenses miserable. Hopefully the Flames can make the proper adjustments before heading to Northwest Indiana. Follow me on Twitter @GabeSalgado82