UIC (3-5) dropped its third straight home game of the season Wednesday night against Southern Methodist (8-2), 73-65. The Flames, who trailed the whole way except for a couple of ties early in the second half, rode senior guard Kelsey Barlow’s 31 points the whole way. But Barlow’s one-man show was not enough to carry the Flames down the stretch.
SMU jumped out to a 12-0 start, and early on it looked like a repeat of UIC’s 93-58 loss to Northwestern on Nov. 20. Although the Flames did not fall apart like they did against the Wildcats, a better start could have completely altered the game for them.
“You can’t spot a good, talented, defensive-minded team like that 12 points to start the game,” UIC head coach Howard Moore said. “But I was pleased with the way my guys fought back. They didn’t put their heads down and say, ‘Here we go again.’ They dug in and got stops, and they attacked.”
SMU head coach Larry Brown chose to start Illinois natives Ben Moore, Sterling Brown, and Crandall Head as a sort of homecoming, and the new starting five gelled immediately.
“This was the first time that group has played together,” Brown said. “How dumb am I? I should have left them in!”
When SMU’s Yanick Moreira, a 6’11” center who entered Wednesday averaging 11 points and 6.1 rebounds, went to the bench with two fouls at the 14:07 mark of the first half, the Flames were able to find some easy buckets inside. They got within as few as one point late in the first half and went into intermission trailing 33-31.
The Flames and the Mustangs traded baskets early in the second half, and the Flames tied it at 41 with 16:20 remaining.
The same pattern then kept repeating: SMU builds a substantial lead, UIC gets back within one possession, UIC fails to capitalize, and SMU increases its lead.
In the final minutes, SMU kept Barlow from imposing his will like he had for most of the game, and the Flames missed a few easy buckets inside.
Barlow’s long three-pointer with 11 seconds left kept the final deficit from reaching double figures, but it did not affect the final result.
Barlow’s 31 points, which he reached on 8-of-18 field goal shooting and 13-of-15 shooting at the charity stripe, marked his second consecutive outing with more than 30 points. He also had six rebounds and three assists.
“I thought Kelsey did a good job of keeping his head up and attacking and trying to find teammates,” Moore said. “Once he drew the defense, he did a good job of finding guys.”
However, Moore was adamant that other teammates have to do a better job of stepping up to take some of the load off Barlow.
“We’re not a one-man team,” Moore said. “This kid [Barlow] has been playing his tail off … But we are more than what we’ve shown — defensive and offensively.”
Senior forward Hayden Humes had one of his best outings of the season with eight points and a pair of three-pointers. Humes entered the season as the Flames’ top returning scorer, but entering Wednesday he was averaging only five points.
Senior forward Jordan Harks contributed six points and two assists, and sophomore guard Gabe Snider continued to show signs of offensive improvement with eight points.
Freshman wing Pat Birt contributed five points and two assists.
Although limited by first half foul trouble, Moreira still scored nine points, seven rebounds, and two steals. His six early points were a big part of SMU’s hot start.
“Moreira was the No. 1 JUCO player in the country for a reason” Moore said. “He’s a terror.”
Redshirt sophomore guard Nic Moore continued his unbelievable season with 20 points and seven assists, including a timely three-pointer during the latter part of the second half. Moore is now averaging 14.5 points and 4.5 assists while shooting 60% on three-pointers this season.
Off the bench, Markus Kennedy added 11 points and seven rebounds and Nick Russell had seven points and four assists.
The defeat was UIC’s third straight at home, and it dropped their 2013-14 home record to 1-4. The Flames’ only victory is against NAIA Roosevelt, and although it should get a home victory against Purdue-Calumet on Dec. 17, it’s next chance for a win at the UIC Pavilion against a Division I program their Horizon League home opener against Youngstown State.
“It’s disappointing to lose at home,” Moore said. “We’ve put this schedule together to challenge us, and we’ve definitely been challenged.”
Although Wednesday’s game was not particularly foul-ridden, Brown still expressed his displeasure with the NCAA’s new rules emphasizing hand checking in favor of the offense.
“I understand the intent of this rule, but there’s no flow to basketball anymore,” Brown said. “The best way to learn how to take more shots is to start teaching these kids when they’re real young how to play — how to pass, how to catch, how to get a pivot foot, how to try to make somebody else better. Then I think we’d have a better game.”
Coach Moore is also not pleased with the new rules’ effects.
“We are giving up 12 more free throw attempts per game than we were a year ago, and we haven’t changed our defense,” Moore said. “We’re not out denying and pressuring. We’re doing the same defensive principles and philosophy that we’ve had since I’ve been here.”
UIC returns to action at Loyola (Chi.) on Saturday while SMU returns home to host Hofstra.
Other notes from Wednesday night:
—UIC head coach Howard Moore said Jay Parker, the Flames’ backup point guard, is very close to returning. Moore is optimistic that Parker will play in Saturday’s contest against Loyola.
—SMU head coach Larry Brown on the modern game of college basketball compared to what it was 25-35 years ago: “Kids now are worried about playing time. They all have their bags packed going to the NBA. … John McLendon, [Henry] Iba, Dean Smith, Frank McGuire, Pete Newell — they all had this value system of playing the right way, sharing the ball, defending, respecting your teammates. Earn the right to play — it’s not something that’s given to you.”
—Moore on freshmen Pat Birt and Markese McGuire receiving significant playing time: “We’re putting the freshmen on the fast track. They’ve got to learn on the fly.”
—Moore on senior forward Hayden Humes’ and junior guard Marc Brown’s lack of production in recent games, including against SMU: “I called out Hayden and I called out Marc Brown — two of our leaders: ‘You guys have got to step up.’ They’re good kids and they mean well, but sometimes good kids can finish last. They’ve got to pick it up, and they’ve got to bring more production.”
—Brown on playing in Chicago: “I think this is a terrific opportunity to coach in Chicago. This is a basketball city. People respect the game and appreciate it, and there’s so many high school programs.”
—Brown further commenting on the NCAA’s new officiating rules: “If Allen Iverson played today, he’d average 3,000 points.”