When Craig Robinson agreed to play UIC at the Pavilion, he probably thought he'd be getting a nice game in the city where his coaching career began. As the Flames struggled to a 1-6 record to start the season, including a six game losing streak, it probably looked even sweeter.
And then Wednesday night happened. The Flames came ready to play and pulled out a shocking 63-61 victory thanks to the heroics of Robo Kreps (left) and multiple turnovers by the Beavers down the stretch.
"At the end of the games players got to make plays," Kreps said. "I'm just glad we came out with a win in this one."
Now we have an answer to this question.
Kreps scored 19 points in the game. He scored 14 points in the second half as the Flames finally found the shooting tough going 15-24, 62.5%, from the field. No shot was bigger though than the one Kreps made with 5.3 seconds remaining. His lay-up over Oregon State's 6'11" center Roeland Schaftenaar gave UIC (2-6) a 62-61 lead.
The Flames then got steals from Zavion Neely and Brad Birton to seal the game. Overall the Flames forced Oregon State (4-5) to cough the ball up 19 times on the night. The young Beavers team, which starts two freshman, has had problems with turnovers all season long. It cost them dearly in this one.
"We're a little bit at a loss," Robinson said. "Last year we won those types of games. We'd be up 7 with a few minutes to go and we'd just milk it down. This was extremely disappointing. ... You can't win games like this when you turn the ball over, especially at critical times."
Also shouldering some of the scoring load for UIC was Neely. The sophomore guard managed to penetrate into the Beavers defense over and over. He went 5-9 from the field and finished with 13 points.
UIC went with a short bench in this game and it showed as four Flames went over 30 minutes played. Jeremy Buttell played his best game of the year. His picks and energy on the defensive end against a bigger Oregon State team was outstanding. While his stats aren't eye-popping with 8 points and 5 rebounds, his boards kept possessions going and he played with toughness in the paint.
"Jeremy has been a good rebounder ever since he's been here," Collins said. "Once he makes his mind up to go and get the ball he goes and gets it. What we're trying to get him to understand is to make his mind up a little quicker to suit the staff. He did a tremendous job tonight."
Also, Spencer Stewart continues to provide the Flames with an enigmatic boost. Sure, he comes with the turnovers - 6 in this game alone - but he also creates open shots for his teammates as he finished with 8 assists. Stewart got his first start of the season on Wednesday.
"It feels great to start," Stewart said. "Really I just have to credit that to the coaching staff. Coming back coach told me you know, 'Just let me work you in,' and he just had a master plan and it's unfolding as we go."
This is a very good win for UIC after the struggled of the past 6 games. It was obvious from the beginning of the game, when head coach Jimmy Collins started with a small-ball lineup instead of the usual five-man set, that the Flames were prepared and hungry for a victory. Let's hope that urgency continues as the season moves forward.
"You know it was gut-check plays, it was hustle plays," Collins said. "We got to loose balls, we got to long rebounds when the counted and we got the stops when we really needed to. It's the kind of win that I'm going to show these guys over and over again on the film."