UIC coach Steve McClain said his team was entering this year’s Horizon League Tournament with a totally different mindset than last year, and it showed in Sunday’s quarterfinals. The sixth-seeded Flames held off a late comeback from third-seeded Green Bay for a 79-70 victory.
The Phoenix were the oldest team in the conference and the defending tournament champions, but they hit a long scoring drought midway through the second half. The Flames took full advantage with a 17-2 run, taking a 68-52 lead with less than five minutes to go.
Then Green Bay turned up its defensive pressure in the closing minutes, and an 10-0 run closed the gap to 72-70 with 1:08 left. Then the Phoenix ran out of gas, and UIC salted the game away at the foul line.
“Coaching a young team, sometimes we do some silly things,” coach Steve McClain told The Catch and Shoot. “But you know what, they didn’t lose their composure, and they made the free throws at the end when they had to.”
Four Flames scored in double figures led by junior forward Tai Odiase and redshirt freshman guard Dominique Matthews with 16 points apiece.
Freshman point guard Godwin Boahen scored 9 points in 25 minutes in his return from an ankle injury.
“We got great production from everyone that was on the floor,” McClain said. “Having all our bodies able to go was a big factor. I was able to keep guys fresh on the perimeter tonight, both defensively and offensively.”
Green Bay was the highest remaining seed in the tournament after No. 1 seed Oakland and No. 2 seed Valparaiso lost Saturday in the quarterfinals. That honor now belongs to No. 4 seed Northern Kentucky, which plays Wright State later Sunday evening.
Entering that final quarterfinal game, the lower seed has won every game of Motor City Madness.
(Also of note, Green Bay coach Linc Darner had not lost a conference tournament game since 2011, including Division II.)
With Valpo losing, the Flames will actually be favored in Monday’s semifinal matchup against No. 10 seed Milwaukee. The Flames swept the Panthers in the regular season.
The tournament’s format has the top two seeds play their quarterfinal games a day earlier to protect them with an extra day of rest. But with Milwaukee and No. 9 seed Youngstown State pulling upsets, they now get the benefit of a day off.
“We know personnel, and we’ll get together late tonight and remind our guys,” McClain.