INDIANAPOLIS – They’re certainly not a complete and total longshot to get here since they entered the Horizon League Tournament as the fourth seed. Making it to the semifinals in Indianapolis would have meant the tournament had gone to plan.
But with the way UIC played getting to Indiana Farmers Coliseum for Monday’s game with top seed Wright State, and what they did over the course of 40 minutes against them, the Flames have the look of an inspired underdog eager to keep their season going.
In a solid, and to some surprising, performance against the Raiders, the Flames dominated from the start to the finish en route to a 73-56 victory that puts them in the conference’s championship game. They’ll face second-seeded Northern Kentucky Tuesday night after they beat third-seeded Green Bay in the other semifinal.
Tarkus Ferguson led the huge effort with 25 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the field with Marcus Ottey chipping in 13 and Braelen Bridges 10. All of their efforts helped UIC build as much as a 25-point lead as they handed Wright State just their fourth Horizon League loss of the season.
It’s put Steve McClain’s team into the conference tournament championship game for the first time in his tenure with the program and the first overall since the 2004 season. That was also the last time the Flames made the NCAA Tournament, as Armond Williams helped UIC knock off UW-Milwaukee on their home floor that March.
This run continues the steady improvement of the team since the early part of the Horizon League season, when the Flames lost four of their first five conference games. Coincidentally, it was an upset of Wright State in their sixth game that started the turnaround, as UIC finished the Conference season with a 10-8 record, good enough for fourth in the standings.
With a pair of games in Chicago – one at Credit Union 1 Arena and the other at Gentile Arena – UIC built more momentum in their Horizon League Tournament openers. After crushing IUPUI 93-59, the Flames made a big first half hold up in a 67-61 win that sent them to Indianapolis.
Now they’re just one win away from making it to the “Big Dance,” as the Flames continue to heat up at the right time in March.