By Greg Gulas
The University of Illinois-Chicago men’s basketball team was picked to finish third in the Horizon League’s preseason poll.
But the Flames brought an inauspicious 8-11 record to Beeghly Center on Thursday for a showdown against Youngstown State.
Ranked last in the league in three-point field goal percentage, the Flames got 29 points from Tai Odiase and canned 14 of 26 shots from beyond the arc as they defeated the Penguins, 92-78 in Horizon League action.
It was the fourth straight loss for the Penguins (5-15, 3-4) and their fourth consecutive league setback after starting 3-0 in conference play.
“Give UIC a lot of credit — I thought they made shots and made some winning plays,” Penguins head coach Jerrod Calhoun said. “There were some stretches where I thought we did some good things, but overall when you give up that many points at home, it’s tough.
“The number of three-pointers, I don’t know if they’ve made 14 all year in a game,” Calhoun said. “That’s got to be a high number for them.
“The disappointing thing was I thought that so many of them were uncontested,” the Penguins coach said. “In basketball, if you contest shots then you’ve got a heckuva chance to win.
“I didn’t like some of our body language tonight,” he said. “I thought we got down a little bit, it’s a two- or three-point game and I thought some of our guys just panicked a little bit.
“You‘ve got to stay the course, grind it out and be who you are,” Calhoun said. “We have to understand who we are a little better and you can’t give up 92 points.
“It was a very lackluster performance.”
Trailing 70-69 with 8:35 left in the game, the Flames went on a game-ending 22-9 run for their fourth league victory in seven outings.
“There’s a reason UIC was picked third in the preseason,” Calhoun said. “It’s really come down to seven or eight minutes of basketball for us and that’s the crazy thing about sports.
“Anything can change at any given time,” Calhoun said. “Every night in this league has been a battle. It’s really whoever plays defense. Play defense and you put yourself in position to win the game.”
Braun Hartfield scored the first 10 points of the game for YSU and with the game knotted at 10-all, Cameron Morse’s initial hoop gave the Penguins their first lead, 12-10.
A 19-7 run, keyed by four buckets from beyond the arc from Marcus Ottey, Dominque Matthews and two from Godwin Boahen gave the Flames a 29-21 advantage.
But an 8-0 run by YSU knotted the game at 29-apiece.
Ottey finished with a game-high 29 points while Tai Odiase added 17. Boahen and Tarkus Ferguson scored 14 and Matthews was the other UIC player in double figures with 11.
Two triples by Ottey and another by Matthews increased the Flames’ lead to 42-31, but the Penguins fought back and went on a 12-4 run to end the half as they pulled to within 46-43 at the intermission.
Hartfield scored 17 of his team-high 25 points in the opening session, adding 10 rebounds for the only double-double on the night, his first of the season.
“This one is tough,” Hartfield said. “We wanted this one, we knew we could get it but we didn’t execute.
“We gave up too many points on the three and they really didn’t miss,” Hartfield said. “They shot 50 percent from the field, 53 percent from the three-point line and 87 percent from the foul line.
“It’s tough to beat any team when they shoot like that,” Hartfield said. “We just ‘gotta get better.”
A Boahen triple increased the UIC lead to 56-49 at 16:15 of the second half, but the Penguins countered with an 8-0 run on two buckets by Naz Bohannon and triples from Garrett Covington and Morse to take a 57-56 lead.
Trailing 63-61, the Flames then reeled off the next six points for a 67-63 advantage, only to have YSU cut the lead to one on a bucket by Hartfield and charity toss by Bohannon.
A bucket from beyond the arc from Ottey, his fourth of the game, made it 70-66 before Morse’s second triple cut the deficit to 70-69 at the 8:35 mark.
It was the closest the Penguins would get the rest of the way.
Devin Hayood (13 points), Bohannon (12), Covington (11) and Morse (10) were the other Penguins to score in double figures, which was the 2,225th game all-time for YSU.
The loss was the Penguins’ third straight to the Flames as UIC improved to 28-11 all-time in the series.