First Half Blitz Buries Bradley

The snow was falling when we entered the Arena, and it was falling the same when we walked out. What happened inside was a bit less mundane. Milwaukee fans were able to walk away with a somewhat optimistic feeling about this team last night after the Bradley contest.

Not only did the Panthers win the game 86-74- they held a sizable lead virtually all game and several players had breakout games. If last night was a preview of things to come, there will be no shortage of great Milwaukee Panther Basketball to watch (at least at the Cell) this season. Those pesky road games must get figured out sooner than later....

Bradley seemed like the perfect match-up for the Panthers. Both teams are relatively young and not laden with seniors, and both were a bit undersized (Bradley was missing their center who suffered a broken nose in a previous game).

First off- major props to Bradley's fans. They must have had a contingent of 250 people or more- indeed it looked as if their red army of supporters were an auxiliary visiting student section. They tended to be boisterous (but in good taste), intense, and knowledgeable about the game their team was playing down on the floor. Kinda like Panther fans I guess!

From the very first possession it appeared that UWM was happy to be home and comfortable in the friendly and familiar confines of the U.S. Cellular Arena. The Panthers lit it up in the first half; so much so, that a lackluster shooting performance in the second didn't unhinge the team and spoil the spectacular effort in the opening 20 minutes. Doing something that seldom happens for UWM, and giving the Panthers a key advantage in the paint- UWM won the battle of the boards, 52-46.

Ricky Franklin (13pts, 13rbs, 5ast) started for the first time since he was temporarily suspended in place of Deonte Roberts and like many of the Panthers around him, played a huge game to bolster the winning effort. Franklin was unstoppable. He defended tenaciously, showed great shot selection (knocking down 3 of 5 three point attempts), and rebounded his way to a rock solid double-double.

The Panthers were led in scoring by Tone Boyle (24pts, 4rbs, 3ast in 40 minutes- Tone had no problem playing a complete game). Boyle seemed to attack the rim at will- sometimes even looking like a human crash test dummy as he catapulted himself through the lane and into a menacing perimeter of defenders on his way to the hoop. Defenses beware though- Tone can shoot- from anywhere, contested or not, and free throws are like a breath of fresh air to him (he's no Shaq you wanna hack!). Tone was 10-12 from the charity stripe including a perfect 10-10 in the closing minutes to protect this big win.

Don't think Avery Smith was about to miss out on last night's scoring feast! Avo (21pts, 5rbs, 1stl) was the true fire starter in the first 10 minutes, igniting UWM to a lead that stretched as wide as 21 points in the first half. #0 seemed to always be around the bend when a big shot was needed and he masterfully hit them head-on from close and long range (Avo was 5-8 from 3pt) to keep padding that Panther lead.

Big James Eayres (11pts, 4rbs, 1blk, 1stl) showed more of his improbable versatility (remember James is 6'7" 310lbs). James seems to be finally figuring out his post moves- and they are quite effective when he breaks them out. Bradley forwards looked as if they were waving a Mack truck off the road every time they tried to get in his way. In fact, I can't resist posting this hilarious quote found on a Bradley fan discussion board:
Originally Posted by SaintLouBrave22
Especially considering we actually watched in horror as a 350 lb guy drove the ball around our players through the lane like they were stuck in quicksand, or in our center's case, cement boots.

Why don't you hop in there and take a charge from a freight train? I could feel the floor shake in my house just watching on TV.

Human nature would tell you to stay the hell away...especially when he does his little razzle-dazzle spin move - HOLY COW!
Nuff said? James is a beast. We even got to see 10 solid minutes from the human disappearing act, Burleigh Porte (4pts, 2blks). It was only fitting that Porte, taking a pass during the final fast break, charged his way straight through the empty lane and slammed home UWM's final two points like so many frustrations, doubts, and other obstacles that the Panthers have battled this season.

Tony Meier, Anthony Hill, and Deonte Roberts all added to the win as well. While they didn't have as big of games as the aforementioned heroes of the night, their work was essential, and more of their big games are right around the corner (and some things on the offensive and defensive ends of the court that help a team win can't be conveyed in the stat line).

This game was another great effort by this inconsistent Panther squad, and a very nice Christmas present to boot!! May everyone enjoy this holiday season and the family, food, cookies, gifts, and reflections that come with it. A nice break from school and basketball will be good for this team (and a nice break from the 9-to-5 will be good for myself and the rest of the work force!).

The Panthers will travel down I-94 for their next contest, to face off against the UIC Flames in Chicago on Tuesday, December 30th, at 7:00pm. Tune in to Time Warner Sports Channel 32 on cable, or to WISN 1130 on radio. If this team can get consistent and start playing a lot better on the road, things.... could get interesting.