It’s difficult to win a game when a team straggles through several significant scoring droughts in the second half—just ask the Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis Jaguars.
Knotted 50-50 at the 6:59 mark in the second frame, the University of Illinois at Chicago Flames (11-11; 6-3) senior big man Tai Odiase pounded down an uncontested alley-oop from sophomore forward Jordan Blount, sending the crowd at the UIC Pavilion into a frenzy. It was the first basket of an 11-0 Flames run that coincided with IUPUI (7-14; 4-6) going 5:44 without a field goal. The Jaguars also went 3:39 without a single point during that span.
“We did our full-court press and that forces teams to play a lot faster than what they want to,” Blount said. “We’re more comfortable like that. When we’re playing slow we aren’t playing our best. We get teams out of their comfort zone and into ours.”
This was one of four instances in the second half when the Jaguars went on scoring droughts that lasted at least two minutes, as IUPUI shot just 29.2 percent and coughed the ball up 10 times in the second half in a 71-62 loss at the hands of the Flames.
Down seven points with 15:16 left in the second half with both teams in an offensive stalemate, UIC whittled away at the deficit and recaptured the lead at the 10:32 mark on a Godwin Boahen layup that hit the right side of the rim, knocked off the backboard, then settled into the bucket.
The home team took advantage of a Jaguar field goal drought that extended across 4:49 of game time and didn’t panic when their shots weren’t going down either at the start of the second half.
“Our defense leads to our offense,” Odiase said. “If we play good defense than we’re going to be able to score regardless. When it comes to (offensive) droughts like that, [we think] don’t let up on the defensive end.”
The Flames’ defensive intensity picked up in the second half and they conceded nothing to the Jaguars offensively.
With 5:25 remaining, Blount smashed the ball out of IUPUI forward Aaron Brennan’s hands, hitting it off Brennan’s knee after the Jaguar’s big man had established great post position and would have had an easy bucket if he hadn’t been swiped. Blount screamed and flexed after the play.
On another occasion, IUPUI forward Evan Hall had the defense beat inside after he sealed out Odiase and went up for a dunk that both Blount and Odiase contested leading to a hard foul that sent Blount sprawling into the cheerleaders on the baseline. Hall missed both free throws.
Blount and Odiase combined for 18 points, 23 rebounds, and five blocks, infusing an aura of toughness inside that fueled the second half defensive effort.
“It’s how I grew up,” Blount said after the game when asked about his hard-nosed playing style. “I have a big family with a lot of siblings. It’s the Irish in me.”
— UIC Basketball (@UICFlamesMBB) January 27, 2018
Led offensively by Dikembe Dixson (15 points on 5-for-11 from the field) and Marcus Ottey (18 points on 6-for-10 from the field), the Flames outscored the Jaguars 44-30 in the second half to escape with a hard-fought victory at home.
After trailing by as many as eight points, the Flames made a run late in the first half to tighten things up heading into halftime. Blount cleaned up a missed layup from Boahen in transition after a steal, getting fouled in the process and converting an old fashioned 3-point play to cap off a 5-0 Flames run.
“I had an official tell me the other day that he reminded me of a guy I played with, all the other teams hated him, and we loved him,” UIC head coach Steve McClain said about Blount. “He plays hard, he’ll knock you down, but he’ll pick you back up. I see him do it during the game, he’ll run into a guy, knock him down but pick him up. He’s just playing hard and that’s something you can’t teach.”
UIC shot 33.3 percent from the field in the first half, forcing the issue in the paint but either not finishing or attempting wild shots. The Flames went 1-for-7 from behind the 3-point line and finished the game 4-for-15 from this range after pouring in a season high 14 3-point field goals just nine days ago against Youngstown State.
But the youngest team in the Horizon League found a way to bounce back in the second half for their sixth conference win of the season. The Flames are now 6-1 in the last seven games with the starting lineup of Ottey, Tarkus Ferguson, Dixson, Blount, and Odiase.
“I think we’ve matured a lot from last year,” said Odiase. “And I think we’re able to finish games out more now this year because of the more mature players we have on the team.”
The Horizon League slate rolls on for the Flames when they travel north to take on the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee at 7 p.m. on Monday.