Wednesday, December 14, 2016

UIC's bench rises to the occasion with Dixson's injury

                                     Photo Credit: Geno Green

One minute, a routine layup by UIC's top scorer Dikembe Dixson to go ahead 11-10 became a nightmare scenario in the next minute as he went to the ground clutching his knee in agony, "Oh my god!!!"

The frightening screams quieted the McGrath-Phillips Arena as coach Steve McClain and the team trainer helped Dixson off the floor, but unable to any weight on the injured left knee.

UIC's depth would be put to the test as its star leader was in the locker room and it answered the challenge and scored an 80-75 upset over DePaul (5-4) at McGrath-Phillips Arena on Wednesday night.

As bleak as things looked, UIC's bench stepped up with 37 points, compared to DePaul's seven. 14 of those points came from Kyle Guice, who came into the game with an average of 2.6 per game.

Guice's most important points came off a three-point make from the baseline via a cutting pass from Marcus Ottey with 56 seconds left put UIC (5-5) up for good at 76-73.

Not a lot people expected the Flames to respond and take their game to the next level after Dixson's injury, but coach Steve McClain saw the win as taking the next step in creating a culture in the Windy City.

"When you are trying to build a program, you have to go through steps," McClain said. "We had a game like this at Grand Canyon, where we had a chance to win on the road and just couldn't make a couple of the right plays, but tonight we did. The three that Kyle Guice hit in the corner, Marcus could have tried to shoot a bad layup, but instead he kicked it to a wide-open Guice and made the shot."

Junior forward Tai Odiase finished with 12 points, on 5-of-11 from the field and agreed with McClain's views on the growth of UIC in late-game situations.

"We are getting better everyday. Sometimes, our youth shows in close games, but we looked at the Grand Canyon game and used that as motivation to step up," Odiase said.

Game recap:

The Flames' lead expanded to as many as six points with 9:31 left in the first half, but the Blue Demons reversed the script and took an eight-point lead to halftime.

Ottey's layup to start the second half signaled that UIC would not go away quietly.

Clint Robinson's dunk kept the Flames within range at four, but went into a 3:02 stretch without a point.

DePaul's lead grew to nine points, but Tarkus Ferguson's triple highlighted a 7-2 run, but UIC found itself back to square one again.

A breakthrough came as the Flames' 10-0 run, putting them back up 61-59 with 6:58 left in the game.

Both teams traded the lead on multiple occasions over the next 6:02, until Guice's late triple kept the Flames ahead for good.

Game Note:

Dixson will be evaluated on Thursday by doctors to find out the extent of the left knee injury.

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Follow Geno Green on Twitter @TheGenoGreen.