By Robbie Weinstein
It was a muted reaction for such an eye-popping play.
Trailing Detroit Mercy by six in the first half, UIC’s Tarkus Ferguson fed center Tai Odiase for a rim-rattling reverse alley oop out of a timeout. A small home crowd and subdued bench barely reacted to one of the Flames’ impressive plays of the season. Nothing came easy for UIC (17-12, 12-4 Horizon League) in its uneven 94-87 win over the Titans (8-21, 4-12) on Monday.
“It was amazing, because we were probably sharper in shoot-around today than we had been in four weeks, and yet we came out kind of flat,” head coach Steve McClain said.
That flatness resulted in an early 12-point Detroit Mercy lead, but the Flames slowly cut the deficit before uncorking 31 points in the last 9:44 of the first half to go up six. The improved energy showed, as the Flames got more vocal and started picking up Titan ball-handlers farther up the court. Detroit Mercy’s Kameron Chatman gashed UIC for 30 points and nine rebounds, but the Flames avoided giving up extended runs.
“I was really locked in today on their guards, knowing how to pressure them a little bit,” UIC guard Marcus Ottey said. “When you play defense like that, when you try to pressure them a lot, everything else usually falls into place.”
The Titans regained the lead thanks to a 9-2 run to start the second, but Michael Diggins capped a 9-0 UIC spurt a few minutes later with a three that put the Flames up double digits.
Eight-of-11 second-half three-point shooting was all UIC needed to hold off the Titans, and Ottey’s game-high 20 points didn’t hurt.
“I thought he had more pop today,” McClain said. “That’s a good problem to have, when you have a guy that works so much that he wears himself down.”
The third-place Flames kept pace with league-leading Northern Kentucky and Wright State, and they host Northern Kentucky on Friday with a share of second place on the line.