The battle for third place in the Horizon League continued today as the IUPUI Jaguars (14-11) were defeated by the UIC Flames (13-12), 76-75 in the Indiana Farmers Coliseum.
Both teams entered the day with a 6-5 conference record, giving them both a share of third place in standings. The Jaguars triumphed in the Jan. 4 meeting at UIC, 66-64. However, the Flames came into the game rolling off two straight wins over conference leaders Northern Kentucky and Wright State before coming to Indianapolis.
The UIC game plan was apparent early; deny Cameron Justice. And it worked. The face-masked Justice started off cold and was frustrated even further by getting three early fouls.
The teams traded blows in the beginning of the game. However, last week’s Horizon League player of the week, Tarkus Ferguson, gave UIC a spark at the 12-minute mark with three straight three pointers.
The Flames held a 15-point lead throughout the rest of the half. Three straight threes from IUPUI’s own Jaylen Minnett gave the Jaguars some momentum with three minutes to go in the half, but UIC had all the answers. The Flames shot 61.5 percent from deep in the first 20 minutes, and entered the half with a 50-36 lead.
IUPUI came out to play after halftime. A combination of good offense from the Jags and UIC cooling down from the field made it a competitive game.
“We knew that we were better than how we played in the first half,” Minnett said. “We knew that if we wanted a chance, we had to come out and fight first.”
Grant Weatherford helped flip the script for the Jags. The 6’2” guard added a little emotion to a breakaway, one-handed jam midway through the second half that gave the rest of the team some life. The Jags then went on a 15-3 run to bring the game back within three with 8:52 remaining.
IUPUI was able to stay in reach for the rest of the game, and had a 1-point lead with 30 seconds left. A fast break layup by UIC’s Marcus Ottey stole the lead back and gave the Jags a chance for the final shot.
After a broken possession by the Jags, a misplaced outlet pass gave IUPUI one final chance to win the game. With 3.3 seconds left on the clock, Justice inbounded it to Ahmed Ismail. Ismail gave shoulder fake to the baseline, then pivoted for a 7-foot fade away. The shot fell short and sealed the game for the Flames, 76-75
The game’s leading scorer was Minnett with 20 points. Ottey led the Flames with 13 points, including the eventual game winner. Four other players for UIC also reached double figures. Their game plan worked, as Justice was held to 6 points and didn’t score in the second half.
“They’re a great team, I believe that we’ll end up seeing them in the postseason,” Minnett said. “If we do, it’s going to be all out war.”
The Jaguars will have a chance to make up for this home loss on Thursday as they head to Youngstown State (9-16) for a Valentine’s Day matchup. Tip is at 7:00 p.m. and will be broadcasted on ESPN3.