Men's Basketball Edged By Cleveland State In Horizon League Quarterfinals, 67-64
March 6, 2009
INDIANAPOLIS- The UIC men's basketball team overcame a rough-shooting night and clawed its way back from a deficit to lead by as many as nine in the second half, but the Flames were unable to hold on in a 67-64 loss to the Vikings in a 2009 Speedway Horizon League Men's Basketball Championship quarterfinal at Butler's Hinkle Fieldhouse on Friday night.
UIC saw a five-game winning streak snapped and fell to 16-15 to end the season, while Cleveland State (23-10) advances to meet Green Bay in a semifinal at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday night.
Senior guard Josh Mayo scored a team-high 24 points in his final collegiate game, setting a new school record for free throws attempted with 20 shots from the charity stripe while matching a school record for made free throws with 17.
Sophomore guard Robo Kreps scored 16, while junior forward Rob Eppinger continued his stellar output in the final stages of the year by falling one rebound shy of his second consecutive double-double with 11 points and nine boards.
UIC made just seven of 25 shots from the field (28 percent) in the first half and finished just 16-for-50 (32 percent) from the floor as a team for the game.
Cleveland State led by as many as 11 early, but the Flames ended the opening period on a 7-0 run to get within two heading into the break.
The Flames would outscore the Vikings 12-4 to open the second half and take a 39-33 lead almost halfway through the final stanza. The run was highlighted by a four-point play by Kreps after he made a three while getting fouled by Jeremy Montgomery as he released the deep shot, quickly turning a two-point deficit into a two-point UIC advantage.
Cleveland State went over five minutes without making a field goal in the second half, due mostly to an aggressive 2-3 zone employed by the Flames.
UIC would lead by as many as nine with five minutes left, but the Vikings would turn the momentum around by using a full-court press that caused the Flames to turn the ball over three times in the final three minutes. The Vikings scored on all three miscues, including back-to-back turnovers by Spencer Stewart and Mayo that led to layups which broke a 61-61 tie and allowed Cleveland State to go up four with just over a minute left.
Mayo made a pair of free throws shortly after to close the gap to two, and Eppinger was fouled on the other end after corralling a rebound to go to the line for a double-bonus opportunity with 28 seconds remaining. He missed the first and made the second, forcing the Flames to foul Norris Cole to try to get the ball back. Cole made a pair to extend the Vikings lead to three, giving the Flames one last chance to even the game.
Jeremy Buttell missed a pair of three-point attempts, and Stewart grabbed the rebound and tossed the ball out to Chris Buchanan for one last try. Buchanan's shot at the buzzer grazed iron, ending the game and the Flames' tournament run.
The physical affair included 44 total fouls called and 60 free throw attempts between the two teams.
Tori Boyd was injured early in the first after taking an elbow to the head. He did not return and was taken to a local hospital for further examination.
"This game was almost a storybook of how our season has gone all year," said UIC head coach Jimmy Collins. "We're able to play and we're able to compete and we're able to get a lead, but holding a lead when it really, really counts has been a problem for us all year. But the guys really put their hearts into it and really, really put forth the effort tonight."
Collins said that losing such a close game in the postseason hurts, but it was not the most important thing on his mind.
"The game is immaterial," said Collins. "The game was a good game, and one that we would have liked to have won, but right now my heart and prayers are with Tori."
Senior center Scott VanderMeer blocked two Viking shots to cement his name into the record books with a total of 273 career rejections, the most in school and conference history.