UIC’s eight-game losing streak, which included a mix of blowouts and heartbreaking finishes, is finally over. The Flames held off the Detroit Titans on the road Sunday, 83-73.
“The win feels good but I am more pleased with how we decided to play together as a team,” coach Howard Moore said. “These players are starting to figure out that we are a better team than our record shows and we can play with anybody in the league. There is a lot of basketball left to play and as long as we keep playing with urgency down the stretch anything can happen.”
UIC jumped out to an early 10-5 and never trailed in the first half. Detroit forced a tie at 22-22 with 7:49 left in the period after back-to-back 3-pointers from sophomore guard Chris Jenkins and senior forward Juwan Howard Jr.
The Flames then rattled off a 10-2 run, led by sophomore guard Markese McGuire and junior guard Paris Burns. They led 43-36 at halftime.
McGuire, who came out of high school with a reputation as a scorer, had not been producing much for UIC, but he has exploded the last two games. He finished with 14 points Sunday following a career performance Wednesday against Oakland with 16 points.
“He is playing with a lot of confidence right now,” Moore said of McGuire, who shot 8-of-11 (72.7 percent) from beyond the arc in two games last week. “He’s another one of those guys who was inserted into the lineup because of his defense and hustle. Now you are seeing his offense come around after he started focusing on the right things.”
Burns is another player who has made huge improvements in recent games. After posting 18 points and 5 assists Sunday, he is now averaging 16.8 points in his last five games on 51.7 percent field-goal shooting. He has also had at least 3 dimes in each of the last four outings.
“I thought Paris did a great job of running the team,” said Moore. “He showed a lot of leadership and was very vocal today.”
Within the first five minutes of the second half, Detroit gained its first lead of the afternoon at 50-49. The Titans’ lead reached as many as five points with 8:31 remaining, and then UIC’s seniors stepped up.
Guard Marc Brown, who finished with 22 points, drained a 3-pointer. Then forward Ahman Fells drew a foul and made both free throws on the next possession to knot it up at 63-63.
On the following possession, Brown’s putback gave the Flames a 65-64 advantage.
UIC strung together several stops while Burns and senior guard Jay Harris combined to hit three daggers 3-pointers, and the Flames’ lead grew to 11 points.
“Difficult day for us,” Detroit coach Ray McCallum said. “We ran into a team that really played with a lot of energy, played with confidence and played with poise down the stretch. We battled back and was able to take a lead, but just couldn’t sustain it.”
UIC continues its road trip Thursday with a trip to Wright State. Despite dropping eight games in a row, the Flames are still in contention for the No. 5 seed in the Horizon League Tournament after Sunday’s win.
Detroit currently holds the No. 5 spot at 4-7, and Wright State is one game ahead of UIC at 3-7. Earning the No. 5 or No. 6 seed can be pivotal, as those teams have the benefit of hosting the No. 8 and No. 7 teams, respectively, in the first round of the conference tournament.