Primal Scream

The Panthers played a much better brand of basketball last night at the Cell. First-year Detroit coach Ray McCallum and his players may not have seen it coming until the second half, but UWM was poised for a big night and desperate to break a three game losing streak that started with the Marquette loss. Break that losing streak they did, and impressively (or maybe anything positive is impressive after watching the past three losses!), with a 71-62 win over Detroit Mercy.

And make no mistake, this was not the Detroit team of last year. Their players were bigger, more athletic, and played the game a lot better than the laughable Titan team that Paige Paulson put away on a buzzer-beater at home and that the team lost to on the road last season. Post player Xavier Keeling and point guard WoodyPayne carried most of the load for the Titans- and they did it very effectively (one could hardly help from laughing when the student section, in their second-most most effective chant of the night, repeated, "Wooooo-dy, Woooo-dy" every time Payne touched the ball).

At 6'7", 235lbs. and with some very quality basketball skills, Keeling your prototypical dominant Horizon forward. As such, he was able to get around our front court defense and drop in bunnies for much of the game. "Woooood-dy" Payne, as humorous as the chant sounds, kept Detroit ahead or in the game all night- we've got things to work on to prevent defensive (gaping) holes, but you've gotta credit the 5'11" Payne with the kind of beautiful drives into the lane (behind a defender, and then in off the glass) he made all night. Detroit figures to be a force in the next 2-3 years; once those players mature and reach the top of their potential, it could really brush the cobwebs off the Detroit Mercy Basketball Program.

Kudos all around for some (and some flat-out ridiculous) team and player stat lines. Other than field goal percentage (.400)- the team was on point against the Titans: the team was 6-15 (.400) from three point, 13 assists were dished out, 8 crucial blocks stifled DMU's post offense, and UWM (albeit narrowly) won the turnover battle 11-13.

By completely confounding Detroit’s interior with his deceptively small frame, Tony Meier (9pts, 10rbs, 4blks) proved once again why he starts for the Panthers as a true freshman. Bo Ryan doesn’t hands out praise at a high premium and said of the young forward after the Badgers-Panthers game, “Meier is going to be a great player for them….. You talk about a confident stroke”.

Anthony Hill (16pts, 6rbs) did more than his primal scream to rally the troops. Ant seemed to play much better defense (as did the entire team- but his D was most noticeably improved), and really disrupt things down low- he could be now realizing just how much power he has to move bodies around with his gigantic and strong physique. Slowly but surely, we are seeing Hill’s transformation into an elite Horizon post player. And remember, he is still a sophomore…

Tone Boyle was, well- Tone Boyle. He led all scorers with 21 points (3-4 3pt) on the night and led all players in minutes played (39). Jeter is starting to find out that it’s hard to get a gym rat off the floor (and with the way Boyle has seamlessly adjusted to D-I, why even consider playing him less?).

Just when you though the “James Eayres Show” was starting to fade into obscurity, he comes back with a huge game. Earyes (9pts, 5rbs, 2blks in 14 minutes) effortlessly twisted about in some sick looking post-up moves and found his way to the hoop for a lay-in every time (unfortunately a few were missed- but he followed everything up that he could (which wasn't happening in previous games this season)).

Avo had a forgettable night from the field (1-10), but dished out a game high 7 assists to make up for it, big time. Some of his passes were phenomenal and it truly is reassuring to see him bring the ball up the court- this guy is in control 100%. Had Avo been on is game, we might have been able to win by more, but a win (and the start of a different kind of streak) is all that matters.

And that defense! It was incredible to see all the block shots last night (and Porte didn’t even play!). Tony Meier was a force against Detroit’s bigs- though they out-sized him considerably, Tony stayed his ground, and challenged everything as if it were the closing seconds of a close game (shots and rebounds).

All of the Panther big men were effective on D- it looked like 6 of the 8 blocks happened without the Panther defender even leaving his feet! For the first time this season, Milwaukee employed the zone defense. It didn’t seem to be significantly more effective than man-to-man, but then again defense all around was superb last night. I think when we play zone against a team that is notoriously susceptible to it, we will see the full effect.

Horizon League play continues tomorrow afternoon against a winless Wright State (2:00pm tip time at the U.S. Cellular Arena in downtown Milwaukee). The Raiders of Wright State are going to be chomping at the bit to get off the snide…. But your hometown Milwaukee Panthers have other plans, and for the first time since the Ball State loss, we could get back above .500 and begin conference play 2-0 (as opposed to last year’s sputtering 0-2 start to league play). One thing is sure after tonight- if UWM can hit shots and play defense (bring out that ZONE!!!!), they can win any of the games left on the schedule. A win tomorrow afternoon over Wright State would be a good start.