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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Friday, November 16, 4 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: UVI Sports & Fitness Center (3,500) -- St. Thomas, Virgin Islands. Television: FSN. Home Record: Illinois-Chicago 1-0, New Mexico 1-0. Away Record: Illinois-Chicago 0-0, New Mexico 0-0. Neutral Record: Illinois- Chicago 0-0, New Mexico 0-0. Conference Record: Illinois-Chicago 0-0, New Mexico 0-0. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: As part of the weekend-long Paradise Jam in St. Thomas, the Illinois-Chicago Flames and New Mexico Lobos will duke it out at the UVI Sports and Fitness Center on the campus of the University of the Virgin Islands.
The Flames are riding into this contest off a win in their season opener. Thanks to a strong defensive effort UIC was able to take down UC Riverside 59-52 at UIC Pavilion in a non-conference matchup. It is the type of start the Flames needed after totaling only 23 wins over the last three seasons. UIC did not play on a neutral court last season but had just one win in 16 tries away from home.
Also earning a win in its season opener was New Mexico which dispatched of Davidson 86-81. The Lobos trailed by 16 points early in the second half but overcame that with help from a 14-2 run midway through the final period. In nine neutral court battles last season, the Lobos took home seven victories while finishing the season 28-7 overall, the best mark in the Mountain West Conference.
Both of these teams' next opponent will be determined by a matchup between George Mason and Mercer with the winner of each contest facing off and the loser of each pairing up as well.
This will mark the first time these two programs have been pitted against one another on the hardwood.
It was on defense that the Flames really made their mark in the opener. UIC held UC Riverside to 35.2 percent shooting overall in the contest. UIC itself struggled offensively connecting on 38.8 percent of its shots, although it did outscore the Highlanders 24-12 from beyond the arc.
Josh Crittle led the way on both ends of the court for the Flames. The senior center scored a team-high 15 points and brought in seven rebounds while also protecting the rim in collecting five blocks. Sophomore guard Joey Miller provided an offensive spark off the bench with 14 points on a 4-of-6 shooting performance from beyond the arc. Lead returning scorer Gary Talton took plenty of shots but finished with only six points on an off night in which he netted only 3-of-12 field goal attempts including misses on all four shots from beyond the arc. Although he was unable to get himself going, Talton did fuel the offense as a distributor, handing out seven assists. Hayden Humes also scored in double figures, finishing with 10 points. Talton, Humes and Crittle, all starters last season, each played at least 31 minutes in the opener.
Rebounding can often swing the momentum in a game and for New Mexico that proved true against Davidson. Led by a 27-7 edge on the boards in the second half, the Lobos were able to erase an early deficit and roar back for the win. New Mexico nearly outscored Davidson by 20 points (55-36) during the second half.
Even though the shots weren't falling at a consistent rate for him, Tony Snell was without a doubt the most important player for New Mexico in the opener. Despite a 7-of-22 effort from the floor, Snell finished with a game-high 25 points. Snell is one of two returning starters that averaged in double figures last season. The other returning double-figure scorer Kendall Williams, also a guard, put in a strong effort with 17 points, six rebounds and seven assists. Williams willed himself to the free throw line consistently in the game and finished with 13 points from the charity stripe on 14 shots. Also in double figures was Alex Kirk who finished with 14 points and seven rebounds off the bench. The redshirt sophomore center adds a great deal of size in the interior for the Lobos with his seven-foot frame. Guard Demetrius Walker, a solid reserve last season (7.4 ppg) had a decent debut as a regular starter with 10 points.
Although these teams share the same record entering this game, they are separated by a great deal in terms of talent. New Mexico was an NCAA Tournament team last season and has the offensive firepower to blow by the Flames.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: New Mexico 81, Illinois-Chicago 63
11/16 10:38:38 ET
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