Big James Has Big Game

The Panthers beat Wright State 66-59 at the Cell this afternoon giving UWM a winning record and handing the winless Raiders their 6th straight loss. It was a refreshing sight to see the Milwaukee Panthers finally come out strong, build and early lead, and hold on to that lead all game (save for a brief few seconds in the second half- the team is still struggling in latter half of games...). UWM is now 5-4 on the season and 2-0 in conference. Not a bad start for a team that was 3-6 and 0-2 at this time last year...

This Wright State team was depleted, and so the next matchup in Dayton may turn out to be a completely different (and much more difficult) challenge (esp. by the absence of junior guard and conference wave-maker Vaughn Duggins who is out with a broken finger suffered in practice last month).

The Panthers led throughout the entire first half, opening up a double digit lead that almost stretched to 20 points before a few dry spells and the awakening of a slouchy Wright State offense (their defense wasn't spectacular either- they seemed to have no problem letting our guys take open shots beyond the arc (and we an impressive 10-18 (.556) from three) were.

Wright State began to mount a comeback in the second half, and it actually materialized, before Eayres, Avo, and company wrested back control of this second conference game and never looked back.

The story of the afternoon was "Big James" Earyes. While Eayres was struggling a bit earlier in the season and caused many to question the legitimacy of his much-ballyhooed long range shooting skills. Well this was only one game, but James (13pts, 8rbs, 1stl (4-4 from 3pt) proved that he can knock down the big shots and Wright State was unfortunately first team to really take notice.

Deonte Roberts (9pts) and Avery Smith (9pts, 4ast) had solid games today, while surprisingly Anthony Hill (7pts, 1rbs) and Ricky Franlin (2pts, 2rbs, 2ast) did see the floor enough to make that big of an impact (like they usually do!). I expect both will have big games against Miami (OH).

Tony Meier (10pts, 5rbs, 3ast) was crippled by foul trouble from the early goings, but managed to contribute in a big way. Tone Boyle had 11 points but was only 1-7 from long distance. That will not happen again this year- and I repeat, even with Tone shooting cold from the arc, the team was 10-18 from 3.
While the secret weapon "player" of this game was Big James, I think the teams' secret weapon for the entire season is going to be their drastically improved shooting. When you've got forwards who are excellent perimeter shooters (Meier, Eayres) and other forwards who can shoot it from three with success when they need to (Hill, Averkamp), you've got a helluva mismatch opportunity with teams who don't want their big guys to run around the court trying to defend the 3.

I've said it once and I'll say it a thousand more times- the three point shot is the ultimate neutralizer for a Mid-Major team. While it won't be any kind of "genie in a bottle type" savior against Horizon teams (most everyone in the Horizon runs 3 guard sets and shoots a lot of threes- like most Mid-Majors!), but if we had shot 10-18 from beyond the arc against Wisconsin or Marquette... the results may have been a bit less embaressing. But I digress. This was a great win, and will hopefully be a stepping stone for a lengthy winning streak.

Without Vaughn Duggins playing and with Todd Brown playing way under his potential, the Raiders have been lost in the shuffle very early on. It's a shame for a team that was projected to be in the top three teams of the Horizon League before the season started. The Raiders are certainly not done- and they will probably win a lot of games when Duggins gets back. But I'd much rather be where we're at that where they're at- still, the League is stacked this year; nothing will be easy. We've got a lot of work to do.

The Panthers travel to Miami, Ohio to play the Redhawks next Thursday. This will not be an easy game- Miami (OH) is 4-3, yet beware the numbers. Their losses came against none other than: UCLA (64-59), Pitt (82-52), and Xavier (60-53). Then again they haven't really beat anyone that special either (neither have we). They did however beat a team in Dayton that call themselves the Raiders- at least on that level, we are now on par.

This is a big one. We have proven that we can win the games that we are expected to win or make close. We have yet to mount a game-long challenge against teams that we are not supposed to beat. Miami (OH) will likely be a high single digit favorite for this game, and so it falls into that latter category of games that we've yet to win. Great teams can win every time they step on the court. It's way too early too speculate on how good this team really is, but if they want to become great, it starts with a victory over Miami (OH). GO PANTHERS!!!!