EVANSTON (AP) — Going up against a Big Ten team on the road didn’t faze Illinois-Chicago this time, either.
Josh Crittle hit a go-ahead basket with 53 seconds remaining, and the upset-minded Flames, two years removed from beating Illinois at the United Center, flustered Northwestern on Saturday in a 50-44 upset at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
Crittle finished with a team-high 13 points, and Gary Talton’s two free throws with 29 seconds left sealed the win for the Flames (6-1).
“It just shows that the hard work we put in during the offseason and coming into this game is paying off,” said UIC guard Daniel Barnes, who finished with 10 points. “But we’re not satisfied.”
Wildcats center Alex Olah missed two free throws with 3:16 remaining, and on the Flames’ ensuing possession, Marc Brown converted an easy layup to give UIC a 44-42 lead. The Flames never trailed again.
Drew Crawford scored a game-high 18 points, but the Wildcats (6-2) committed 16 turnovers and may have hurt themselves most by going just 10 of 20 from the free-throw line.
“Free throws are just mental,” guard Dave Sobolewski said. “I think everybody’s just got to get in the gym and start taking more and more. We’re hungry to get better. This isn’t the end of the world. We’ll be OK and we’ll move on.”
The back-and-forth game featured nine ties and 11 lead changes.
Joey Miller’s jumper tied the game at 35 with 10:23 left, erasing UIC’s five-point second-half deficit. Two minutes later, Brown’s three-point play gave the Flames a 38-35 lead.
Northwestern was fortunate to be leading at the half, 26-25, thanks to 29 percent first-half shooting by the Flames.
“We knew this was going to be a tough game,” Northwestern coach Bill Carmody said.
The Wildcats came out strong to start the second half, quickly extending their lead to five points on a Crawford jumper and Reggie Hearn’s fast-break layup. But as was an issue all game, Northwestern couldn’t get stops on the defensive end. Barnes knocked down a 3-pointer, and Crittle’s three-point play off another offensive rebound put UIC back ahead, 33-32, six minutes into the second half.
“Going into the season, nobody thought UIC would do anything,” Flames coach Howard Moore said. “And we took notice of that. But at the same time, we relish the fact that we know that we worked our tails off and the results are going to come.”
Crawford did his best to keep the Wildcats in the game despite their sloppy play. Twice in the second half he answered a Flames basket to bring Northwestern back within one point. Crawford drilled a 3-pointer off a screen to help Northwestern again regain the lead.
But the Wildcats couldn’t harness the momentum. Another Northwestern turnover led to a UIC layup by Talton to tie the game at 42 with 3:29 remaining. The Flames scored 14 points off turnovers, and although they were outrebounded 39-34 by the Wildcats, they capitalized on their 12 offensive rebounds to score 15 second-chance points.
“We were getting decent looks tonight,” Crawford said. “Some of the shots we usually hit as a team, they just weren’t falling tonight, and that’s tough because we were playing good defense, but at the other end, shots weren’t falling and there were too many turnovers.”
Twenty-four of UIC’s 50 points came in the paint, led by Crittle and forwards Brown (seven points) and Hayden Humes (eight). Northwestern’s offense stalled whenever Crawford was not on the court. Only five players scored for the Wildcats, with Hearn being the only other player to reach double digits. Hearn finished with 10 points but was 4 of 9 from the free-throw line.
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