"You say 'Division I, Division II' obviously it didn't mean anything," said UIC head coach Jimmy Collins after his Flames lost to Lewis, 65-55, in an exhibition contest on Tuesday. "What meant something tonight was effort and we just didn't show enough at the right time."
All of the Flames struggled in their new roles on Tuesday night at the Pavilion. Without Josh Mayo to drive and kick, Robo Kreps struggled to a 1-9 effort from the field in 21 minutes, including 0-5 from three-point range. Without Scott VanderMeer and Tori Boyd in the front court, Jeremy Buttell wasn't able to find any rhythm as he finished 0-6 with three rebounds in 19 minutes.
UIC though has only itself to blame. The Flames came out flat and were down by double digits before the game had really even started. The starting five of Kreps, Buttell, Brad Birton, K.C. Robbins and Kris Harris looked dysfunctional on offense as Harris was the only one who was able to find any consistency on offense. He finished with 9 points on 4-8 shooting in 22 minutes.
"We have to work on the character of our team and we have to figure out who on this team is going to exhibit some character," Collins said. "We got a lot of bodies, but we just don't have a lot of players at this particular time. We were depending on some people to obviously play better."
Some players did step up for the Flames. Second unit players like freshmen Anthony Kelley and Louis Green along with sophomore guard Zavion Neely stepped up and closed the deficit to two by halftime. All three seemed to have much more life on the court than the members of the starting five. Green played much better than his junior counterpart Robbins and got the second half start. He finished with a team-high 10 points and 8 rebounds.
"He tries, he really really tries and his effort was certainly appreciated by me tonight," Collins said about Green.
Kelley threw himself after loose balls and gave UIC some desperately needed three-point shooting. He went 2-3 from beyond the arc, grabbed two rebounds and in general seemed to be comfortable on the court.
"I just tried to take the open look and not force anything, just let it come to me," Kelley said.
The game has to be judged on an individual level, because the Flames certainly aren't a cohesive whole yet. The team failed at every aspect of the game that would give a fan confidence going into the season. The defense looked very shaky as three Lewis players finished in double-figures, the Flames shot 35.7 percent from the field and Kreps and Buttell looked unprepared for the key roles they've been thrust into this season.
There were also some unexpected problems and those certainly came down to effort. UIC was out-rebounded 44-33 by the Flyers. Lewis scored more points in the paint (22 to 16), off of turnovers (11 to 7) and off of offensive rebounds (11 to 10).
Lewis is a young, but obviously very talented, Division II squad, and the score doesn't really matter, since it won't count on UIC's record, but the Flames needed to show more.
"It is going to be up to me and the staff to paste together somebody out there that can compete every night," Collins said.
After this exhibition that's what the Flames are still looking for, a lineup that gives effort every game.