MILWAUKEE — Milwaukee used a 19-7 run late in the second half Sunday to pull away from UIC for a 98-85 victory in the both teams’ regular season finale. The Flames trailed by only four points midway through the second half, but the Panthers offense came alive behind point guard Jordan Johnson to avoid an upset on senior day.
A hot start for J.J. Panoske. Panoske scored Milwaukee’s first 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting as the Panthers raced out to an early lead. Then coach Rob Jeter subbed out his senior big man with 16:30 left in the first half and did not bring put him back on the floor until the 13:51 mark.
Panoske was not cold after his stint on the bench, but he did not remain hot, either. The Panthers offense cooled off for a bit, and that helped the Flames overcome a slow start and take a 46-44 lead into halftime.
Dikembe Dixson impacted the floor on both ends. As usual, Dixson was a dominant offensive force. He scored 17 points on 6-of-15 shooting in the first half and also dished out three assists. The 6-foot-7 freshman also used his length effectively on defense, forcing one block and two steals in the first half.
Although Dixson was less efficient in the second half, he still finished with a game-high 29 points on 10-of-26 shooting.
Dixson has now scored at least 20 points in each of the last seven games, as well as in 11 of the last 12 outings.
“He just continues to amaze me with how he can get to the rim, and yet everyone knows he’s going there,” UIC coach Steve McClain said.
Milwaukee (19-12, 10-8 Horizon) made a few spurts early in the second half to pull away, but Gabe Snider was able to answer for UIC (5-24, 3-15). The senior guard drained six 3-pointers on his way to a career-high 20 points.
When Milwaukee opened up a 60-54 lead early with 14 minutes remaining, Snider swished back-to-back treys. The Panthers quickly bumped their lead to seven points, then Snider hit another 3-pointer.
UIC hung close for several minutes until an 8-0 run in a 1:02 span gave Milwaukee a 77-65 lead with just under seven minutes to play. Flames guard Lance Whitaker stopped the bleeding, and then Snider hit his final triple to bring UIC within single digits.
“He stepped up and knocked them down,” McClain said. “The guys did a great job of finding him when he was open.”
While Snider was phenomenal and Dixson provided his usual offense, UIC did not get enough contributions across the board to pull off the upset on the road.
Jordan Johnson went for yet another double-double. The Milwaukee point guard recorded 11 points and a program-record 15 assists for his sixth double-double of the season. He also had a triple-double last Monday against Youngstown State.
Johnson grabbed six rebounds as well Sunday, flirting with another triple-double.
Milwaukee had a balanced scoring attack with five players scoring in double figures, led by Panoske with 20 points. But as usual, Johnson was the team’s driving force.
Of the other four Milwaukee players who scored in double figures, Johnson assisted on 13 of their combined 23 made field goals.
“He’s a great point guard for them because he doesn’t care about scoring,” McClain said. “He sets everybody up. He waits for you to make a mistake, and then he finds the open guy.
Julian Torres continued his coming out party. The 6-foot-9 freshman played solid defense for UIC, which included a monstrous block on a baseline dunk attempt by Austin Arians early in the first half.
Once again, Torres showed off his skills on the glass with a pair of offensive rebounds, which he turned into five points in the first half.
UIC will be the No. 10 seed in the Horizon League Tournament. The Flames will face No. 3 seed Wright State in the first round Saturday in Detroit. While finishing at the bottom of the conference standings is surely a disappointment for this team, being the No. 10 seed gives UIC an easier path for a Cinderella run, although it remains unlikely.
“Because it’s a neutral site, I think everybody goes there with the idea that you’ve got a great opportunity in front of you,” McClain said.
UIC split the season series with Wright State and would play either Youngstown State or Northern Kentucky in the second round should it advance. The Flames split with Northern Kentucky and lost to close games to Youngstown State.
As the No. 10 seed, the Flames are also on Oakland’s side of the bracket rather than Valparaiso’s.
Again, a miracle run through the Horizon League Tournament is highly unlikely, but being the No. 10 seed gives UIC better odds than being the No. 9 seed.