Apparently two wins is the maximum amount of prosperity the UIC Flames can stand at any one time. The Flames had a chance against Milwaukee to get their first three-game winning streak of the season, but, like the previous two chances, they lost, 78-74, on Senior Day at UIC Pavilion on Saturday afternoon.
Of course, the wins for UIC (8-21) have been few and far between this season. It has been a long one for Jimmy Collins, the four seniors that were honored, and the rest of the Flames.
Collins made the strange decision today to start all four of his seniors - Spencer Stewart, Jeremy Buttell, Kris Harris and Chris Buchanan. While Harris and Buchananon are key reserves for the Flames they had just 3 starts - all Buchanan's - between them this season before Saturday. The lineup, which also included K.C. Robbins played well for the first 5 minutes of the game before Collins inserted normal starters Robo Kreps and Zavion Neely, but the Flames already trailed by nine points at the time.
There is a first-half photo gallery below.
That deficit seemed to haunt the Flames for the remainder of the game. UIC's starters kept the game around 7 points for the majority of the first 20 minutes, but a late spurt boosted Milwaukee to a 41-27 lead at half. In the second half the Flames made a few runs, as has been their character during the past few weeks, but they were unable to close the gap to fewer than 2 points, which they did multiple times down the stretch, before the Panthers would find an answer. The dagger was an offensive rebound and basket by forward James Eayrs with 1:22 remaining that pushed Milwaukee's lead to 6.
The mood swings from half to half befuddle even Buttell. "To be quite honest, I don't really know," he said. "We get going in the locker room talking amongst ourselves and talking to the coaches. I hate to say it this way, but it's more motivation, more inspiration that we have to play better and fight back. ... We've got to start putting two halves together."
The Flames had problems on the boards. They were out-rebounded 41 to 27 for the game. In the first half Milwaukee shot 51.7% from the field. The Flames allowed more than 70 points for the sixth game in a row. Then again, the faster paced offense has made for some entertaining finishes.
UIC was already locked into the ninth seed in the Horizon League Tournament before the day began. The Flames will be traveling on the road to Milwaukee on Tuesday to play a do-or-die game to continue their season. Collins has things to work on before that key game, including guarding Anthony Hill and Eayrs in the post. Those two along with Jason Averkamp combined for 41 points and 20 boards in the game. Hill had 20 points and 9 boards on his own.
"We obviously have to go to the gym tomorrow and work on post defense," Collins said. "Anytime you give up 41 points and 20 rebounds to the opposite's team post, you're not going to win."
Stewart, the Horizon League leader in assists this season, finished with 12 points and 4 assists, he also 8 boards. He continues to breathe life into the UIC offense. While Buttell struggled a bit during the first half of his final home game, he finished tied with Kreps for the team lead with 16 points and also had 6 rebounds. Kreps had an uncharacteristically bad day at the line going, 2 for 6. Neely also added 15 points.
All of the match-ups for the first round on Tuesday:
- Bye: Butler, Wright State
- Youngstown State at Green Bay
- UIC at Milwaukee
- Loyola at Cleveland State
- Detroit at Valparaiso