The University of Illinois-Chicago had just two chances left to finish the regular season with a Horizon League victory, and Tuesday night the Flames got just that with an 80-58 stunner at the Milwaukee Panthers.
In the process, the Flames — who came into the game as the lone Horizon League team without a win this season at 0-14 in conference play — also snapped one of the longest NCAA Division I losing streaks of 17 games.
The Flames (6-23, overall, 1-15 in Horizon League) raced out to a 39-27 halftime lead behind 18 first-half points from senior guard Kelsey Barlow, who shot 8 of 10 from the field — including 3 of 4 from beyond the arc — and led all scorers with 23 points.
The loss for the Panthers, meanwhile, was devastating considering they entered Tuesday in a four-way tie for fifth place in the Horizon League standings and had a chance to grab one of the top-4 seeds. Instead, Milwaukee (16-13, 6-9) not only lost valuable ground, but its fourth game in a row.
Milwaukee was led by forward Kyle Kelm with 12 points and five rebounds.
The Flames, who were seeking to atone for a Jan. 16 loss to Milwaukee when UIC blew a 13-point halftime lead in a 67-64 defeat, crushed the Panthers’ will right out of intermission Tuesday with a 23-9 run to go ahead by 26 points.
Forward Jordan Harks was the Flames’ only other player in double figures with 10 points in the win for UIC, which was already assured the No. 9 seed in the upcoming conference tournament that begins next week in Green Bay, Wisc. — home to the Horizon League’s regular-season champ, Green Bay.
Milwaukee was one of two teams to beat Green Bay this season, which made the loss to UIC that much more surprising. The Panthers also dominated the Flames as of late in the all-time series, winning 12 of the last 13 games before Tuesday.
But Milwaukee struggled in nearly every phase, shooting 18 of 57 from the field — including 6 of 20 from 3-point range — and getting out-rebounded, 41-31. Panthers guard Jordan Aaron and forward Matt Tiby added 10 points each in the loss.
Milwaukee will close out the regular season Thursday at Detroit, while UIC wraps up at home against Wright State on Saturday.
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