If Thanksgiving has a special meaning to any sports team this year, the Illinois-Chicago Flames fit the bill. After the embarrassing home loss to Northwestern one week ago, UIC (3-4) was in desperate need of a pick me up to lift the teams spirits. So, the team traveled to Estero, Florida to take part in the annual Gulf Coast Showcase pre-Thanksgiving tournament.
Perhaps the tropical climate, the break from the classroom and overall change of scenery is what the doctor ordered for Howard Moore‘s team. The mental boost was showcased after the Flames finished third in the eight-team tournament. It all began on Monday afternoon when the Flames handed the University of San Diego it’s first loss of the 2013-2014 season with a narrow 74-70 victory.
Both teams kept the game close but clutch shooting with a few defensive stops at the end sealed the win for UIC. On Tuesday however, it looked like the Flames were headed back to the pit of despair after another humiliating defeat. In a 103-78 loss to Louisiana Tech, the Flames were smothered by the Bulldogs defense from the beginning.
LT’s tough defense held the Flames to just 26-of-63 field goals. They also out-rebounded the Flames 38-36, they outscored the them in the paint 50-30, and only allowed one UIC starter to reach double figures (Senior forward Jordan Harks scored 10 points). The Flames defense was powerless to stop the Tech offense and they were already down 60-36 at halftime.
The good thing to come out of that loss is that the Flames refused to let it dampen their spirits. So on Wednesday, UIC took the court again and took out their frustrations on an unsuspecting Wagner team in the third place game of the tournament. Coach Moore’s squad made adjustments on both sides of the ball for a dominant 94-76 victory.
This tournament highlighted three positives for the Flames as well as three negatives. First here are the positives…… Senior guard Kelsey Barlow was a man on a mission in this three day affair. He scored a total of 64 points, grabbed 17 total rebounds, handed out nine total assists, shot 11-of-27 from the field, 12-of-23 from three-point range and may have perhaps proved himself to be a future NBA draft pick.
The second thing that stood out was that the Flames were a little more active with their three-point shooting. Even though they only made 23-of-63 shots from long range (a 35-percent average), the fact that they are not afraid to attempt those shots shows that they are trying to get better in that area. Let’s hope they can get more consistent from behind the line.
The third positive that stood out was the production output from Coach Moore’s bench. During the tournament they combined for 93 points and 43 rebounds, the most production that the UIC bench has given all season. If the reserves can continue to give that kind of an effort, it will help them tremendously once conference play begins.
Of course you can’t have the good without the bad, so here are the three negatives that were highlighted in Florida. The first and most disturbing negative came from the Illinois-Chicago front court. Forwards Jordan Harks, Jake Wiegand, Hayden Humes, Hans Christian Lauer, and Ahman Fells (Will Simonton did not play due a nagging injury from preseason practice) combined for just 83 of the teams 246 total points in this event. They also only accounted for 50 of the teams 115 total rebounds.
Before the trip to Estero, Simonton’s minutes had been low because of his injury. He was projected to be a starter but has yet to start a game this season. Hopefully his return will give the guys up front the boost that they need. The second negative of note is the regression of junior guard Marc Brown. Before the tournament, Brown was averaging 15.7 points and 2.0 assists per game. During the showcase, he only averaged eight points and one assist per game.
The Flames may have been able to get by without his hot hand this time, but Brown needs to get back to form if UIC is to have success moving forward. The third issue that the Flames couldn’t shake was foul trouble. Between San Diego, Louisiana Tech and Wagner, all three teams converted 73-of-99 free throw shots. To allow nearly 100 trips to the free throw line is extremely unacceptable.
UIC needs to cut down on the fouls and show more restraint and discipline when making contact with opposing teams, especially on defense. But at the end of the day, it was good to see the Flames inch closer to the .500 mark. It was also good to see them make the most of the national spotlight. The Flames are fully capable of playing at a high level. They just need to be more consistent, more disciplined, and they need more from their star players.
After enjoying a much needed Thanksgiving break, the Flames return to the court on Wednesday December 4th where they will welcome Southern Methodist to the UIC Pavilion. I wish you and yours a blessed Thanksgiving holiday. Let us be mindful of those who are less fortunate. Follow me on Twitter @GabeSalgado82