CHICAGO — UIC broke away in the second half to defeat NAIA opponent Judson 95-78 Saturday afternoon at the UIC Pavilion. Sophomore wing Dikembe Dixson scored a game-high 34 points and freshmen Godwin Boahen, Tarkus Ferguson and K.J. Santos all scored in double-figures. The Flames nursed a 44-39 lead after the first half but eventually strung together a decisive victory thanks to pressure defense and Dixson’s 19 second-half points.
Dixson Shines With Efficiency
Dixson was asked to carry the UIC offense last year as a freshman, but this year he’ll have a much stronger supporting cast. That supporting cast alleviated some pressure on Dixson en route to 34 points on 18 field goal attempts. The most impressive stat for Dixson was his work at the free throw line, where he finished 12-of-13 for the game. Judson employed a 2-3 defense, and Dixson attacked the zone from the corner wing. He got into the paint at will, finishing or drawing a foul. Dixson’s shooting percentages last season left a lot to be desired, but look for him to improve across the board in that department.
Head coach Steve McClain started three freshmen and played four, showing his trust in the young players from a highly-regarded 2016 recruiting class.
K.J. Santos filled the stat sheet to the tune of 11 points, four rebounds, four assists and three steals. The combo forward from Geneva, IL did a little bit of everything while not committing a turnover. Santos made the right plays and didn’t force anything, and he was in great control on both sides of the ball. He only made 2-of-5 shots from the field and missed his only 3-point attempt, but he produced at the free throw line going 7-of-9.
Tarkus Ferguson got the starting nod over Dominique Matthews and chipped in 12 points, three rebounds, two assists and three steals. The lengthy freshman shot 2-of-5 from three and wowed the crowd with two dunks on fastbreak opportunities. Ferguson drew the starting nod thanks to his floor-spacing abilities and versatility on offense and defense.
Marcus Ottey was the starting point guard and contributed seven points, four rebounds and two assists in 23 minutes. He only committed one turnover, which is key for a facilitator who will have the ball in his hands plenty. Like Ferguson, Ottey thrives in fastbreak opportunities where he can showcase his impressive leaping abilities.
Godwin Boahen replaced Ottey at point guard and played 17 minutes off the bench. He scored 11 points and handed out two assists without committing a turnover. Boahen did a great job of finishing, shooting 4-of-4 from two and 3-3 from the free throw line. His shot from beyond the arc wasn’t falling, as he missed all five of his attempts from three. But Boahen is capable of making shots from deep, he won’t go through many 0-of-5 games from three moving forward.
Strength in Numbers
McClain had 11 players play at least 10 minutes. For comparison, Judson only had eight players register at least 10 minutes. This allowed UIC to wear down an overmatched but well-coached team in Judson. While this was an exhibition and McClain wanted all of his roster to garner minutes, he still figures to go 9 to 11 deep once the regular season starts. This will allow McClain to utilize his roster game-by-game, riding the hot hand in certain stretches.
UIC travels to San Francisco on Friday to take on first-year Head Coach Kyle Smith and the Dons. San Francisco defeated UIC 78-75 in last year’s season opener at the UIC Pavilion. The Flames look to redeem themselves this time around with an influx of talent at their disposal.