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February 9, 2004 Columns No Comments

Back in the Hunt

by Nick Dettmann

CHICAGO – March Madness is quickly approaching as the season flips into February. Thus, creating bigger games and more much needed wins. On Thursday night, the Illinois-Chicago Flames got one of those ‘must wins’ in an 86-82 win over first-place University of Wisconsin Milwaukee.

The win by the Flames splits the series with the Panthers this season and gave UWM their first loss in league play and snapped a nine-game win streak. The Flames also got back into the hunt in the league race as they improved 16-7 overall and 7-4 in the league. UWM fell to 15-6 and 10-1.

“Hard fought game,” UIC head coach Jimmy Collins said. “I’m exhausted, so I know these guys are.

“We needed to re-establish ourselves, not at the bottom but with the top teams of the conference. They are all a must-win, but this was the sweetest of all the must-wins.”

A win for the Panthers would have put them into the driver’s seat, as they would have defeated their three closest competitors twice and would have a three-game lead with just a handful of games remaining.

The Flames also made it four straight over the Panthers in Chicago. UWM has not won at the UIC Pavilion since before Bo Ryan was head coach.

Cedrick Banks led five Flames in double-figures with 27 points. Martell Bailey was up to his usual self with sixth double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 rebounds. Aaron Carr, Armond Williams and Elliott Poole rounded out the double-figure scorers for UIC with 14, 12 and 11 respectively.

UWM’s Dylan Page had a game-high 31 points, including 4-of-6 from three-point range. Ed McCants had 18 points, Adrian Tigert had 13 to go along with 14 rebounds and Joah Tucker had 10 points and seven assists for UWM.

In a series that has traditionally been a physical one, lived up to that billing. Both teams combined for 50 personal fouls and 58 free throw attempts.

The visiting Panthers started off hot early on. They jumped out to an early 5-0 lead. But, UIC quickly responded with eight straight points to take an 8-5 lead with 14:06 left in the opening half. UWM would fall behind 18-12 with 7:18 to go, before they made a run themselves. The Panthers went on an 8-0 run to re-take the lead at 20-18 with 4:57 left.

The game became very dramatic in the closing moments of the first half. With 30 seconds remaining, UWM’s Chris Hill and UIC’s Armond Williams battled for a rebound near the UWM bench. Hill appeared to have the inside position to get the rebound and Williams reached over the shorter Hill to get the board. The official called a foul on Hill. UWM head coach Bruce Pearl went beserk, causing him to chuck a cup of water and two technical fouls, leading to his ejection.

After order was restored and Pearl was escorted out, UWM associate head coach Tony Jones took over.

“I do a lot of coaching in practice, so they are all well-versed in my instruction,” Jones said about the mood in the huddle. “I just told them to keep their composure and we’ll be in the game. They’re going to make some runs.”

UIC’s Aaron Carr hit 3-of-4 free throws for the two technical fouls. UIC trailed 30-27 at this point and tied it up after the charity tosses. The Flames would go into the half with a 34-32 lead.

At the start of the second half, the Panthers wanted to take control. UWM’s Ed McCants was fouled on a three-point attempt by Joe Scott. McCants would hit all three tosses to give UWM 35-34 lead. McCants would come right back to hit two three’s in a one-minute span and Adrian Tigert hit a three himself to give UWM a 44-38 lead with 16:38 remaining.

UIC would get right back in it, as they tied the score at 46 with 15:08 left, thanks to three foul shots by Martell Bailey and a three by Cedrick Banks. UWM would then go on a 14-4 run in the next three plus minutes to give them a, what was thought-to-be, comfortable 60-50 lead with 10:41 to go.

The pre-season player of the year Cedrick Banks took over from here. The Flames took advantage of Banks’ fifth 20-point half of the season, as he scored 20 of his team-high 27 points to help spearhead a run that ignited the 5,164 fans in attendance.

The Flames went on a 13-2 run to take the lead for good at 63-62 with 6:16 left in the game.

“I feel like when a player doesn’t have his best night,” a dejected Pearl said. “I feel I let my players down.” It is the first time that Pearl has been tossed from a game since coming to UWM three seasons ago.


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