CHICAGO — UIC got manhandled Sunday by in-state opponent Eastern Illinois in a 90-76 loss at UIC Pavilion. After a tight 18 minutes to open the game, Eastern Illinois built a 41-30 lead at halftime and led by as many as 23 points early in the second half.
Here are five thoughts on the double-digit defeat for the Flames.
The biggest number of the day was UIC’s 44.9 effective field-goal percentage.
UIC handled Eastern Illinois’ defensive pressure well from a turnover standpoint, but a mix of solid Panthers defense plus some impatient offense by the Flames led to an abysmal shooting performance. The 44.9% mark was easily UIC’s worst of the season.
For a while, that number was hovering around 40% before the Flames got hot (relatively) late in the second half to cut the lead to as few as 10 points.
It didn’t help that they also shot 67.6% (23-of-34) at the foul line.
This is what happens in year two of a major rebuilding process.
Some nights, we’ll see the prospects of a bright future. Other nights, it will look like year one all over again.
This is a team with no seniors and six newcomers logging serious minutes. As long as UIC does not have a string of miserable performances, that’s major progress from last season.
As ugly as Sunday’s loss was (and it doesn’t help the defeat was to an in-state opponent), in the big picture it’s not a big deal. At least not yet.
Tai Odiase won’t become an elite player without improving his free throw shooting.
Odiase, a 6’8″ junior, finished with a respectable stat line on Sunday: 9 points, 7 rebounds, a block and a steal. But he shot just 5-of-10 at the foul line. To give an idea of much Odiase has struggled at the line, that actually increased his season average to 47.6%.
Odiase’s offensive game still revolves around the basket, although he has added a couple of moves to stretch his range slightly. He was exposed going up against a skilled Eastern Illinois front line led by Muusa Dama, and even though Odiase got Dama in foul trouble, he could not make the Panthers pay.
Dama fouled out in 15 minutes of action with 8 points, 5 boards and 3 blocks.
What’s more troubling is Dikembe Dixson took a major step backwards.
Dixson chucked up a handful of poor shots and got beat several times on the defensive end en route to a 10-point performance on 4-of-11 shooting. He also turned the ball over four times, mostly as a result of trying to split double teams or attack defenders when outnumbered.
“I think they did a good job scouting him,” assistant coach Ron Coleman said. “As we continue to grow in this season, teams are going to prepare for him. He’s just got to do a better job understanding how teams are going to guard him, how teams are going to try to take some of his strengths away and things of that nature.”
Dixson had improved tremendously entering Sunday from an efficiency standpoint, and UIC needs him to be highly efficient to stay competitive. Even though Dixson is only a sophomore, he is one of UIC’s most experienced players after logging so many minutes last season.
Meanwhile, Eastern Illinois had two players record efficient scoring performances. Senior guard Cornell Johnston dropped 21 points on 7-of-12 shooting along with nine assists while junior guard Montell Goodwin had 19 points and three dimes. Each player drained four 3-pointers.
Clint Robinson and Godwin Boahen gave UIC a major boost off the bench.
Robinson, a 6’8″ junior college transfer, recorded 8 points and 7 rebounds in 17 minutes, all of which were career-highs in games against Division I opponents. He displayed a toughness that Odiase lacked in the second half, scoring all 8 points after halftime.
“This was a toughness game, and Clint is one of our toughest guys,” Coleman said. “This is a game that was fit for him. These guys attacked the offensive game. We needed to rebound the basketball, and he’s one of our best rebounders. Clint came in and did a great job.”
Boahen, a 5’11” freshman, managed to grab six rebounds and also tallied 11 points and three assists. He also made a great play in the fullcourt press with 1:23 remaining, even though the game was effectively over at that point. He nearly came up with a steal and managed to knock the ball out of bounds in the corner along the baseline, giving Eastern Illinois a very difficult inbounding position. In a closer game, plays like that can have a huge impact in crunch time when it comes to forcing an inbounds turnover.
Redshirt freshman Dominique Matthews also added a few big shots during UIC’s run to cut the lead to 10 late in the second. He finished with 10 points, and freshman guard Marcus Ottey came on strong late to finish with a team-high 16 points.