An odd game at the UIC Pavilion ended with a familiar refrain as the UIC Flames dropped a close game, 72-69, to the Detroit Titans on Saturday. The loss drops UIC to 0-5 in the Horizon League and lifts Detroit to 4-1 in league play and into a tie for first in the conference.
The most trying thing for Howard Moore and the Flames has to be that it doesn't seem like Horizon League squads like the Titans are that far ahead of UIC. Moore has gotten his team to give a consistent 40 minutes of effort and that's led to tight games thanks to impressive defense.
Unfortunately, that effort only seems to work for about 20 minutes of the game and then something else happens. That was the case again on Saturday. UIC led 32-25 at the half, but Detroit went on a run midway through the second half and pushed the lead to 10 points with 8:35 remaining in the game before the Flames came storming back.
"It is very frustrating," said Robo Kreps. "But like coach said in the locker room, we can't go backwards from this. We have to build on what we did today. Even though we lost we still showed some good signs. We showed some heart, effort."
While UIC was able to get the game close at the end, the Flames weren't able to overtake the Titans. The play of freshman guard Ray McCallum was very important for Detroit. He scored 17 points and stuffed the stat sheet. When Detroit needed a tough basket, it went to the coach's son and he delivered at almost every opportunity. Jason Calliste scored 16 and LaMarcus Lowe added 11 for the Titans.
A trio of UIC seniors tried to match. K.C. Robbins, Moore challenged to play to his early season form, had a double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds and did a good job containing Nick Minnerath in the paint. Robbins dominated in the paint at times. The one thing he's going to need to work on though are his turnovers. Sometimes when he goes to drop step into the lane for his hook he forgets to dribble. Those empty possessions were the only way Detroit could stop him as he shot 7-13 from the field and went 3-4 from the foul line.
Kreps (15 points) and Paul Carter (19 points and 10 rebounds) also played well for UIC.
"My three seniors really stepped up," Moore said. "And I challenged them. I challenged them after the Wright State game to be the guys. 'This is your team. This is your group. This is your season,' and I really challenged these three guys to step up and they did exactly what I asked them to do."
In fact, the problem on Saturday for the Flames was that the rest of the team failed to provide any support. Part of the problem was that Brad Birton was ejected as part of a double-flagrant foul along with Detroit's Eli Holman. Another part was that Zavion Neely was feeling a little under the weather and Darrin Williams is still on the bench in a sling. But someone is going to have to step up.
The Flames are getting closer. While the Horizon League looks right now to be separated into two distinct tiers, the Flames, like the Milwaukee Panthers, can rise up and impact the conference race. Both those teams have the potential on any given night to explode and take down a much higher rated opponent. Hopefully we'll see that before the season is through.
"We're still learning," Carter said. "I feel like we're right there."