Indianapolis, IN – After IUPUI’s big road win two days ago and a strong first half against UIC, it seemed improbable that IUPUI wouldn’t notch their first winning streak of the season. It took everything in their power though to undo that work and lose their third Horizon League game in four tries, 70-65.
IUPUI certainly didn’t blow UIC out of the water in the first half. They pushed their lead to 13 points several times but only went into the break up 41-34. But compared to the rest of the season and the Horizon League pre-season rankings that put IUPUI last in the conference, the Jaguars looked like world beaters. They had nine assists on 17 made field goals in their highest scoring first half of the season. Aaron Brennan had 14 points on eight shots including an emphatic dunk plus a foul. On the other end, they held UIC to only 9 shots and forced 12 turnovers leading to 16 points. Two of them came after an Evan Hall steal that led to alley-oop from T.J. Henderson to Ron Patterson.
All of that energy disappeared in the second half as UIC turned up the pressure.
“We didn’t play to win,” Assistant Head Coach Matt Crenshaw said. “We played to survive.”
By the midway point of the second half, IUPUI’s momentum was clearly gone, but they still appeared to be in control. With just over 10 minutes left, UIC had cut the IUPUI lead to 48-44. The ball movement hadn’t been great in the second half, so Jaylen Minnett took it upon himself. With a defender right in his face at the top of the arc, he dribbled between his legs, planted and nailed a three-point basket to push the lead to seven.
IUPUI wouldn’t make another shot for eight a minutes. This isn’t the first time this has happened to IUPUI. In the previous three games they had an eight-minute scoreless stretch and another eight-minute stretch without a field goal.
After UIC cut the lead to 51-50, Brennan drove into the lane and drew a foul on Tarkus Ferguson. Ferguson wasn’t happy with the call and threw his head-band to the sideline drawing a technical foul call. Brennan coolly knocked down four free throws to push the lead back to five. Two minutes later, after UIC took a one-point lead, Nick Rogers split a pair of free throws to tie the game, but IUPUI wouldn’t score again for nearly three minutes. Before Hall finally made a field goal for IUPUI, the 51-44 lead had turned into a 60-56 deficit.
A major part of UIC’s comeback was their aggression on the defensive end in the second half. They pressed full-court and trapped everywhere. IUPUI had just two turnovers in the first half, but 12 in the second. The numbers don’t do UIC’s press justice though. When it didn’t lead to errant back-court passes or frantic fumbling of the ball, they still forced IUPUI’s stagnant offense into contested perimeter shots. As much confidence as IUPUI’s offense instilled in the first half, it totally evaporated in the second.
It wasn’t until the game was already over and IUPUI was down 66-59 with under a minute to go that the offense could muster anything. They only had three made field goals all half until Hall’s run-stopper. Ron Patterson took the ball from the back court and went coast-to-coast for a layup in seven seconds. IUPUI fouled on the next possession and Dikembe Dixson missed both free throws. Patterson took the rebound and went coast-to-coast again to cut the deficit to three giving IUPUI the slimmest of chances. After another foul, Marcus Ottey hit both free throws to put UIC up five. Patterson once again went coast-to-coast for a layup, but there were only four seconds left. Godwin Boahen hit two free throws to seal the game for UIC.
Patterson went 3-for-3 in that brief stretch, but finished just 4-for-14 overall for eight points. Perhaps his aggression in the final minute might have kept IUPUI in control earlier in the half, but like Crenshaw said, this team wasn’t playing to win.
Now, instead of carrying the momentum of back-to-back wins, IUPUI is 1-3 in conference after collapsing in their most recent game and nearly giving away their lone win at the end.