In Sunday night’s first quarterfinal of the Little Caesars Horizon League Men’s Basketball Championship, it was the No. 6 seed Milwaukee Panthers advancing with an 80-75 victory over the No. 3 seed UIC Flames.
After a 37-37 first half in which no team led by more than six, it was Milwaukee junior guard Brock Stull that took over the game in the final 20 minutes.
Stull poured in 19 of his game-high 25 points in the second half. No play was bigger than his difficult step-through 3 with under 90 seconds left and the Panthers nursing a delicate five-point lead.
“It looked good,” said Stull. “Felt good as soon as I released it.”
Milwaukee initially jumped out to an 8-2 lead, but UIC responded with an 11-0 surge, helped by a pair of triples from sophomore Jordan Blount. The Panthers turned the ball over just three times in the opening half and eight for the game. UIC had 16 miscues on the night.
With just over five minutes to go in the game, sophomore Dikembe Dixson rattled in a clutch 3 to reduce Milwaukee’s advantage to one, 63-62. But sophomore Bryce Barnes knocked in a jumper, Stull scored four straight, and the Panthers had wrestled back the momentum.
The Flames were led by Tarkus Ferguson’s 23 points on 7-of-10 shooting. Marcus Ottey tallied 14, Dixson had 13 and Blount scored 10 with seven rebounds.
Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year Tai Odiase blocked three shots, but was held to just one field goal on four attempts.
Milwaukee got an outstanding game from senior post player Brett Prahl. The “Prahl Driver” contributed 14 points and helped to keep Odiase away from the basket on offense.
All-League Second-Teamer Jeremiah Bell scored 12 points. Sophomore Bryce Nze finished with 10 points and nine rebounds while logging 39 minutes.
Despite the loss, UIC head coach Steve McClain was hopeful that his team’s season would continue.
“I think we’ll get the opportunity to keep playing,” McClain said. “When I look at this team and where we’re at compared to a year ago -- what we’ve accomplished with the conference wins, the road wins, I don’t think there’s any question we’ll get an opportunity.”
UIC’s record drops to 17-15.
With the victory, last year’s tournament runner-up Milwaukee (16-16) advances to the Motor City Madness semifinals Monday at 9:30 p.m. The Panthers will take on the No. 2 seed Wright State Raiders. Milwaukee won both regular season meetings by a combined six points.