GAMES NOTES: In-state foes Illinois-Chicago and Eastern Illinois are paired in a BracketBuster matchup at Lantz Arena this evening.
This will be the 30th meeting between these squads but the first since 2003. In that matchup Illinois-Chicago won its third straight and extended its overall lead in the series to 16-13.
Illinois-Chicago has had a miserable season this year, especially in conference play. The Flames have lost three straight and seven of the last eight to drop to 3-12 in the Horizon League and 7-18 overall. Illinois-Chicago will play its last road game with a matchup at Butler next on the schedule.
After a long losing streak in which Eastern Illinois dropped eight straight games, the Panthers have gotten back to winning with victories in three straight entering this game. The struggles earlier in the season have still put Eastern Illinois in a hole, as the Panthers are just 5-9 in Ohio Valley Conference action and 12-14 overall. The Panthers will end the season with two road matchups beginning with Morehead State next.
Illinois-Chicago blew a 37-27 halftime lead on Tuesday and wound up on the losing end of a 74-65 decision against Valparaiso. The Flames allowed the Crusaders to shoot an incredible 72.2 percent in the second half including 8- of-9 from three-point range while converting only 37.5 percent itself in the loss.
The Flames are near the bottom of the conference in most offensive categories this season, scoring 61.4 points per game (8th) and shooting just 39.6 percent from the floor (9th). Illinois-Chicago has had some success on the boards as the third best rebounding team in the conference (35.4 rpg). For a team that rebounds so well it has, it's a guard that leads the team in Derrin Williams (9.9 ppg. 6.5 rpg). Williams had 13 points and again led the team in rebounding with seven against Valparaiso. A pair of backcourt scorers are the leading options on the team with Gary Talton (11.6 ppg, 3.3 apg) and Daniel Barnes (11.2 ppg) taking on the majority of the scoring responsibilities. Forward Hayden Humes (7.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg) is the team's best frontline option while also having the ability to spread the floor as the team's leading shooter from beyond the arc.
Eastern Illinois was able to take a 73-66 victory over SIU-Edwardsville in its last matchup primarily due to the team's ability to get to and convert from the free-throw line. The Panthers outscored the Cougars 16-3 from the charity stripe in the win.
On offense the Panthers were yet again led by senior guard Jeremy Granger who poured in 24 points in the victory. Granger is now scoring 15.5 points per game while also showing an ability to set up his teammates in averaging a team high 3.2 assists per contest. After Granger only Joey Miller (10.6 ppg) and Alfonzo McKinnie (10.3 ppg) average in double figures with no other player averaging more than seven points per game. The lack of balance in scoring has made Eastern Illinois a pedestrian offensive team that scores 66.2 points per game while shooting 43.6 percent from the floor. Both marks are sixth in the 11-team Ohio Valley Conference. However in the last three games the Panthers have been effective, scoring more than 70 points in each game after doing so only once in the previous eight games. McKinnie has done more than score for the Panthers as he is the team's leader on the glass in bringing in 7.2 rebounds per game.
With its offense picking up Eastern Illinois brings in an Illinois-Chicago team that has struggled all year on the offensive side of the ball. Look for the Panthers to continue its current winning streak with a victory at home.