Despite loss, UIC depth shows promise in second half

CHICAGO — UIC was fortunate to be within 11 points at halftime Saturday against Illinois. The Flames had shot just 37 percent from the field and turned the ball over nine times in the opening 20 minutes.

The offense consisted mainly of chucking the ball at the backboard and hoping for a friendly bounce, except for freshman guard Dominique Matthews‘ 18-point outburst on 5-of-7 shooting.

Photo: UIC Athletics

Lance Whitaker came off the bench Saturday for eight points and four assists in the second half. (Photo: UIC Athletics)


Less than two minutes into the second half, Matthews picked up his fourth foul. Not even one minute later, starting point guard Paris Burns was whistled for his fourth foul.

On top of that, starting forward Najeal Young got hurt in the first half and did not return.

With three starters sidelined indefinitely, UIC (1-6) seemed destined to crumble against its Big Ten opponent.

The Flames could not complete the upset, falling 83-79. But the final margin was close, and UIC even led for a brief period in the second half, showing a sliver of promise for a team that is yet to defeat a Division I opponent in six tries.

When Matthews and Burns went to the bench, leading scorer Dikembe Dixson, a freshman wing, stepped up as expected. But UIC also received major contributions from sophomore wing Lance Whitaker and freshman guard Michael Kolawole to push Illinois against the ropes.

Whitaker had eight points and four assists in the second half. Kolawole scored four points.

Freshman forward Hassan Thomas played 13 minutes in the second half, scoring two points on a tip-in that required several efforts at the rim.

Between having several young and new players and instituting an up-tempo system that requires a lot of bodies, first-year coach Steve McClain planned on using a deep bench from the start of the season. However, the depth had not shown much in the team’s first six games.

Most nights, the offense has struggled while Dixson leads the way and gets help from Matthews and sophomore center Tai Odiase. On Saturday, McClain was able to dig deep and find some success.

“Our depth has shown at times,” McClain said. “There’s times our depth hasn’t come through for us. That’s part of the process is learning we’re gonna play a lot of guys so be ready when you’re number is called. Come in and be productive.”

Out of seven players who earned at least 15 minutes of playing time Saturday, six posted an offensive rating of 96 or better. Matthews, Burns, Dixson and Whitaker eclipsed 100.

In UIC’s five other games against Division I competition, they have never had two such players break 100.

Illinois is a poor defensive team, and UIC has a much tougher matchup in that regard Wednesday against Illinois State. As a product of their roster and style of play, the Flames need to continue getting significant contributions from several players. Saturday was the first sign that this team is capable of producing in such a way.

Author: Jesse Kramer

Jesse Kramer is the founder of The Catch and Shoot. He's a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He has had work featured on, College Insider, The Comeback/Awful Announcing, and 247Sports.

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