MILWAUKEE — UIC has one of the best playmakers in the Horizon League in forward Dikembe Dixson, but the Flames offense had been missing a lethal outside shooter during the conference season. The Flames appear to have filled that hole with the reemergence of senior guard Gabe Snider, who drained six 3-pointers and finished with a career-high 20 points Sunday in a 98-85 loss at Milwaukee.
Snider injured his foot Dec. 29 in the final game of non-conference play, a loss against Northern Illinois. One game prior to the injury, he torched Purdue-Calumet for six 3-pointers in nine minutes of game time. Even against a non-Division I opponent, that’s an impressive feat.
The 6-foot-3 guard missed the first 11 games of Horizon League play before returning Feb. 11 against Wright State. But in his first five games back, Snider, who made more than 40 percent of his 3-point attempts in non-conference play, shot just 28.6 percent from long range.
Snider returned to form Friday against Green Bay with a 3-of-5 shooting performance as a warmup for Sunday’s 6-of-7 explosion against Milwaukee. While UIC fell short, Snider’s four treys in the second half kept the Flames within single digits of the Panthers deep into the second half.
In a play on the shooting guard’s name, Milwaukee coach Rob Jeter called him Gabe Sniper.
“He really shoots the ball and gives [UIC] another dimension,” Jeter said.
That dimension is something the Flames lack without Snider. UIC has one other competent shooter, percentage-wise, in sophomore guard Lance Whitaker, who shoots 35.7 percent. But Whitaker averages less than one made 3-pointer per game. UIC’s next best 3-point shooter is Dixson at 31.5 percent.
Those are the ingredients that make UIC the worst 3-point shooting team in the Horizon League at 31.1 percent in conference games, even with Snider’s recent success beyond the arc.
UIC relies on Dixson and sophomore center Tai Odiase for the bulk of its offensive production. Dixson can shoot from long- and mid-range, but he is most dangerous driving into the lane. Odiase takes 60 percent of his shots at the rim and rarely makes an attempt from more than a few feet outside the paint.
With UIC’s 3-point struggles, Horizon League defenses have been able to clog the paint, and that has helped opponents limit Dixson and Odiase’s efficiency.
If Snider stays hot in the Horizon League Tournament, he will force defenses to think twice about that strategy.
“It’s given us an opportunity to have a shooter out there,” UIC coach Steve McClain said. “That’s why I put him in the game early. They weren’t guarding [23.9 percent 3-point shooter Michael Kolawole] at all. They were just taking [Milwaukee forward Austin] Arians and putting him in the lane. When Gabe got in you knew he was going to get some wide open looks, and he stepped up and knocked them down. The guys did a great job of finding him when he was open.”
Not only can Snider’s shooting help UIC make a run in the Horizon League Tournament, but so can his experience. He, along with four other UIC veterans, made a run to the conference semifinals last year as the No. 7 seed.
The Flames came back from down 19 points to defeat Wright State and then upset Oakland. The streak ended in the semifinals against Green Bay.
This year, UIC is the No. 10 seed, taking on No. 3 seed Wright State in the first round Saturday. With a 5-24 record, the Flames’ only hope of playing postseason basketball is to win the tournament.
“We have some guys who played big minutes in that situation [last year],” Snider said. “I think that we’ve been in that situation and we know what it takes. We can kind of mentor the younger guys and bring them through and show them what it takes to win in that situation.”