Flames douse Illini in surprise upset
Robo Kreps and Zavion Neely celebrate UIC's victory against the Illini, the team's first in two decades of competition between the two campuses.
Photo: Brian Kersey
Hear Coach Howard Moore talk about Saturday's upset.
Senior guard Robo Kreps scored a team-high 15 points as the men's basketball team jumped out to an early lead Saturday, then erased a late-game deficit to upset the No. 12/14 Illini, 57-54, at the United Center.
The victory marked UIC's (5-7) first win over the Urbana-Champaign campus team (10-2) since the 1990-91 season.
Kreps' 15 points came on four three-point field goals, including three in the first half.
Forward Paul Carter was 4-of-8 from the field with 12 points, bolstered by a key three-pointer with just under three minutes remaining to tie the game. Junior guard Zavion Neely added 11 points and a team-high four assists.
Senior guard Demetri McCamey scored 16 points to pace Illinois. Sophomore D.J. Richardson chipped in 13 points. The Flames held the Fighting Illini to a 32.7 percent shooting effort.
UIC built an 11-2 lead three minutes into the game, fueled by Kreps’ two early threes. The Flames stretched their lead to a game-high 10 points (18-8) around 11 minutes into the contest, after senior center K.C. Robbins converted his second-consecutive field goal. The Fighting Illini answered with a 15-6 run, pulling with one with about three minutes left in the half.
Neely answered with a field goal on the other end, pushing the lead back to three, 26-23. But three consecutive free throws by Illinois tied the game at 26. UIC senior forward Brad Birton scored inside with just nine seconds remaining in the half to push the score to 28-26, but Richardson hit two free throws with just two seconds left to tie the game at 28 heading into halftime.
UIC went on a 10-2 run to begin the second half. Illinois fought back, taking its first lead of the game (43-41) after a three-pointer by Richardson. The Flames were scoreless for four minutes, and the Illini went up by eight with eight minutes left. Kreps' fourth three-pointer of the game put the Flames back within two possessions, 49-44, with less than six minutes left.
The Fighting Illini's Bill Cole scored on a deep jumper from the corner on the other end, giving Illinois a 51-44 lead. But UIC scored the next seven points to tie at 51 with about three minutes remaining.
McCamey split two free throws on the next possession, putting the Fighting Illini back in front (52-51) with about two minutes left. On UIC's next possession, Kreps missed a pull-up three-pointer, but Williams corralled the offensive rebound, went up strong and was fouled. He hit both free throws to give the Flames a one-point (53-52) lead with about a minute left.
McCamey was fouled again and hit both free throws to give Illinois a 54-53 advantage. Kreps drove the lane on UIC's next possession, but his left-handed layup was too strong. Williams fought for the rebound, tipped the ball in and pushed UIC back in front (55-54) with just 23 seconds left.
Illinois had a chance to take the lead on its ensuing possession, but Richardson's three-pointer bounced off the back of the rim. Jereme Richmond corralled the rebound, and kicked the ball out to McCamey, whose potential game-winner with five seconds remaining was too strong and sailed out of bounds.
Williams and Kreps each hit a free throw down the stretch, preserving the three-point win. Illinois had two turnovers in the final two seconds, eliminating any chance for a potential game-tying three-pointer.
UIC travels to Corvalis, Ore., to take on Oregon State at 9 p.m. Wednesday.
Below: Eddie Denard, Dorian Tyler and Brad Birton cheer the Flames' victory.
Photo: Brian Kersey