The road to March Madness has officially begun tonight as the first round of the 2013 Horizon League Men’s Basketball Tournament got under way. Illinois-Chicago and Loyola were at the forefront of tonight’s action.
The 5th seeded UIC Flames got to play one final home game tonight as they opened the tournament against 8th seeded Cleveland State. The CSU Vikings had beaten the Flames in both regular season meetings this year.
Those defeats had motivated the Flames and as they took the court at the UIC Pavilion one final time, they would not be denied. The Flames dominated from start to finish.
Center Josh Crittle was the torch that burned brightly for the Flames tonight as he scored a career-high 20 points which led all scorers. He also went 10-12 from the free throw line, and added 6 rebounds and 2 blocked shots.
Guard Daniel Barnes also had a hot hand as he pitched in with 16 points, shot 4-7 from three point range, and led his team with two steals. Gary Talton added 11 points and 5 assists, while forwards Hayden Humes and Marc Brown scored 10 points each.
UIC has truly redeemed themselves from their regular season failures against the Vikings. They used their size and speed advantage to punish CSU and take home an 82-59 victory. Illinois-Chicago out-rebounded Cleveland State 45-32, and forced 12 turnovers.
While things were all gravy on the West Side, the North Side was not so lucky. Loyola lost their first round game to Youngstown State 62-60. Loyola has struggled against Youngstown this year as they lost both regular season encounters.
This was a tale of two halves for the 7th seeded Ramblers. YSU took a 12-4 lead early on, but after a timeout Loyola was back into it and tied the game at 19. The two teams would be tied at 29 at the break. In the second half Loyola got busy right off the bat.
They took a 40-34 lead midway through, but that’s when things started to fall apart for Loyola. YSU came back to tie the game and both teams would trade shots until the final minute. The 6th seeded Penguins would win the game on a last second jump shot from D.J. Cole.
Ben Averkamp’s 14 points and Jordan Hicks’ 12 points just weren’t enough on this night. There will be no celebration in Rogers Park tonight.
The final opening game of the night would see the 4th seeded Wisconsin-Green Bay end the misery of the 9th seeded Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 62-46. As the Panthers head home down I-43, they can now begin to improve for next year.
UIC moves onto the quarterfinals to go toe-to-toe with the same Wisconsin-Green Bay Phoenix team. They split the regular season series 1-1 this year. The Flames will need another monster game from both Josh Crittle and Daniel Barnes if they are going to win this rubber match and advance to the semifinals.
Waiting in the wings is the top seeded, regular season champion Valparaiso Crusaders. As for Youngstown State, they have the pleasure of going up against interstate rival Wright State who took the 3rd seed in this years tournament.
Who ever wins this battle of Ohio mid-majors will have the difficult task of playing 2nd seeded Detroit in the semifinals.
Every game from this point on will be on a neutral site as Valparaiso hosts the remainder of the tournament. The festivities resume on Friday night.
Currently UIC is now 17-14 and have improved their postseason chances. They could be in the very tip of the bubble for the NCAA Tourament. But at this point, a bid to either the NIT, CBA, or CIT seems like a better chance.
As for the Ramblers, they finish with back-to-back losing seasons. Although their record of 15-16 is a complete turn around from last year’s 7-23 season, it may not be good enough to get even a CBI or CIT bid.
Wednesday afternoon at 1:30, tune into http://www.sportstownchicago.com/home.cfm and click on the listen live link. I will once again be joining the “Cooley and Chivari” show, where I will give my analysis on the opening round of the Horizon League tournament.