Flames win first round with 19-point comeback in second half
The UIC men’s basketball team (9-23) erased a 19-point halftime deficit for an improbable second-half comeback against seventh-seeded Wright State (11-20) at home Tuesday night, pulling off a 60-57 victory to advance to the second round of the 2015 Horizon League Tournament.
UIC will play No. 3 seed Oakland Friday in Valparaiso, Indiana, in the second round of the Horizon League Tournament. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. CT and can be seen on ESPN 3.
“We were due,” said head coach Howard Moore. “We have been in the fight all season long and these guys just kept battling. I challenged them at halftime to look inside themselves and find a way to get this done.”
The sixth-seeded Flames outscored WSU, 40-18, in the final period and ended the game on a 14-2 run.
Senior Jay Harris sank a game-winning three-pointer with 1:13 left to play and finished the night with a game-high 23 points. Harris then hit two free throws with six seconds remaining to put UIC ahead by three points. He is now UIC’s all-time single-season leader in made foul shots with 152.
The Flames’ defense forced 10 WSU turnovers in the second half and converted those miscues into 21 points. UIC held the Raiders to a mere seven field goals in the final 20 minutes and out-rebounded Wright State by a margin of 18-7. The 18 points scored by WSU in the second stanza serves as UIC’s lowest opponent total this season.
“Our defense in the second half was tremendous and tonight we wanted it more,” Moore said.
The victory is UIC’s second opening-round win in the last three years. The Flames improve to 18-18 all-time in the Horizon League Tournament, including a mark of 6-3 as the No. 6 seed.
Senior Ahman Fells chipped in 11 points, while sophomore Markese McGuire added 10 points and a career-high five assists. Junior Jason McClellan pulled down a team-high seven rebounds and netted nine points.
Wright State used a 21-4 run at the end of the first period to go ahead 39-20 at the break. The Raiders shot 15-of-25 (60 percent) in the opening half and received 10 points from junior Joe Thomasson and freshman Grant Benzinger.
The Flames slowly chipped away WSU’s lead and by the 8:35 mark in the second had pulled to within single digits (49-40).
The two teams traded buckets over the next six minutes, but a layup from McClellan and a three from Fells knotted the count at 55-55 with 1:58 left to play.
WSU responded with a basket by senior Chrishawn Hopkins to go back up by two with 1:39 on the clock. That’s when Harris drilled his third trey of the night, giving UIC the lead for good.
With 44 ticks left, Benzinger had a clean look from three at the opposite that rimmed out. WSU had another chance to score after McClellan missed a contested layup, but Fells stole the ball and dished it off to Harris who was immediately fouled. After Harris sank both free throws, the Raiders failed to get off a shot before the final buzzer.