CHICAGO (AP)—Party on, UIC. The Flames deserve to celebrate.
About a mile from its own campus, Illinois-Chicago pulled off one of the biggest wins in school history Saturday, rallying from eight points down in the second half and stunning No. 12 Illinois 57-54 at the United Center.
“Amazing,” said first-year Flames coach Howard Moore.
“It can really give our program a shot in the arm recruiting, tremendous exposure,” said Moore, a former Wisconsin assistant. “For us, it’s just a tremendous win. It’s just great to have these moments, share these moments with your team.”
Darrin Williams scored five points in the final 1:10 as UIC ended the Illini’s seven-game winning streak. The Flames also stopped their own four-game losing skid, with three of those losses by two points.
“We cracked the past four games prior to this. It is a testament to my players that they didn’t allow it to happen again,” Moore said.
After a sluggish start, Illinois (10-2) used a 12-0 run to build a 49-41 lead with 7:30 to go and appeared in control.
But the Flames (5-7), who led for a good portion of the game, weren’t about to go away in the United Center, where the crowd was mostly dressed in the orange of Illinois.
Beating Illinois at all was a big deal—the Illini lead the series 12-2— and doing so at the United Center made it even sweeter. The Illini are 32-10 at the home court of the Chicago Bulls since 1994-95. UIC’s only other win over Illinois came in 1990 at Champaign.
“A huge win. A springboard for us,” said Robo Kreps, who led the Flames with 15 points. “Midway through the second half I finally took a look at the crowd. I saw the second tier was orange and the third tier was orange.”
Demetri McCamey led Illinois with 16 points but shot only 4 for 11, reflective of the 32.7 percent shooting by the Illini, who struggled against the Flames’ 1-3-1 zone.
“We knew they might play zone, but they hadn’t shown the 1-3-1,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. “To his credit (Howard) it changed a little bit of momentum.”
After UIC’s Brad Birton went high to block a shot by Illinois’ Brandon Paul, the 6-foot-9, 282-pound Williams grabbed an offensive rebound at the other end, was fouled and the 43 percent free throw shooter entering the game made both to put UIC up 53-52.
McCamey was fouled and made both ends of a 1-and-1 to give the Illini a 54-53 lead with 52.2 seconds remaining. After Kreps’ layup rolled off the rim, Williams tipped it in and the Flames were back up 55-54 with 23 seconds to go.
Illinois then missed three straight shots, one a dunk follow attempt by Paul, who seconds later was hurt and had to be helped off the court with a sprained ankle.
Illinois’ Mike Tisdale was called for his fifth foul with 3.5 seconds left and Williams went back to the line and hit the first free throw but missed the second as UIC went up 56-54 with 3.2 seconds to go.
After two timeouts, McCamey stepped on the line near midcourt as he caught an inbounds pass, giving the ball back to the Flames. Kreps was fouled and missed the first free throw and made the second for a 57-54 lead.
Illinois then threw the ball out of bounds on its next inbounds attempt and UIC had its monumental upset as players raced on the court and mobbed one another.
“I gave them a goal to be Top 10 right after Christmas. Obviously that’s not going to happen,” Weber said of his team which must now get ready for Missouri in four days. “I’ve been scared, to be honest. We haven’t had good practices.”
UIC broke out with a 10-2 run to open the second half, started by Zavion Neely’s 3-pointer and capped by his three-point play, to go ahead 38-30 4 minutes in.
Meyers Leonard dunked, D.J. Richardson canned a jumper, and Bill Cole hit a layup to cap the 12-point spurt and put the Illini up 49-41.
Kreps then broke UIC’s field goal drought of nearly 11 minutes with a 3-pointer, his first basket since early in the game, and his two free throws cut the Illini lead to 51-48 with 3:37 left. The Flames then retied the game on Paul Carter’s 3-pointer with 2:51 to go.
“This hurts,” McCamey said. “Give credit to UIC. They hung. We took the lead and they didn’t put their heads down and they came back and made plays down the stretch and we didn’t.”