Hear the Penguins Roar....

I don't even think penguins can roar, but the ones from Youngstown certainly have been lately. After dismantling Green Bay a few nights ago, last night was our turn.

Youngstown State is definitely playing very well right now. Unfortunately, the Panthers couldn't match them shot-for-shot in what seemed like a 3pt shootout for the first 20 minutes. UWM maintained 5 to 8 point lead through much of the first 25 minutes, but then began to falter down the stretch. Youngstown State grabbed the lead and refused to let up.

Sirlester Martin had 20 points to lead the Penguins, but it was the clutch shot of Vytas Sulskis that keyed the Penguin victory. After the Panthers had briefly regained the lead, Youngstown answered at the foul line, and then with the clock winding down past the 1 minute mark, Avery Smith attempted to drive the lane and put up a floater that landed nowhere near the hoop.

YSU then pushed the ball up the court and missed a shot only to call a timeout with 4 seconds left to call a play. That must have been a good play they drew up, because Vytas Sulskis caught the inbound and nailed a 17 footer to the joy of the smattering of YSU fans in attendance and the, nauseous, "here we go again" feeling on the Panthers bench.

The 1.6 seconds that remained didn't matter- all our timeouts were gone. And so it was, that Youngstown State, a team UWM has swept even in down years, captured the 70-68 victory and sent the Panthers even further reeling on the road back to Brew City. These road trips have got to be figured out at some point.

Tone Boyle was back in the lineup and provided big-time help on the offensive end (he was playing a bit "stiff" as Jeter described it- still healing from his back injury). Ricky Franklin scored 14 points in the first half on some terrific shooting... but those would be his only points of the night. Big Lumber lead all Panthers with 19 to compliment his 11 boards.

None of this was enough. It's tough, because honestly we did not play that bad of a game. We just could not get over that hump that impedes the path to victory. Great teams win these heart breakers and meltdown games we have fallen victim to throughout the season (by my count we lost 6 games that we should have won- Ball State, Green Bay at home, Green Bay on the road, Valpo, and all three games in this most recent road losing streak). So is this team that beat Cleveland State and Wright State earlier in the year just.... "kinda good"?

I believe this team can play with the best of them, but if they don't prove they are worthy of greatness, they will forever stay in Horizon League limbo, hovering somewhere above YSU, Loyola, and Valpo, and below the real contenders of Butler, Green Bay, Wright State, and Cleveland State. We've proven that we can beat two of the teams in front of us (and really 3 considering we had Green Bay beat at home (at the end) and on the road (all game until the end)).

I keep hoping that things will start to turn around, but when things go bad even when they do (UWM had some of their best numbers in a while last night offensively), we've got a bigger problem than just "not putting ourselves in a position to win". This team needs to raise the bar- and maybe that's next year. But there are 4 regular season games left followed up with the Horizon League Tournament.

From here on out it doesn't even seem to be about seeding. Nope. This team just needs to gain the kind of experience that will definitely do one thing- give them the confidence in playing D-I they need in order to improve again next season (but hopefully in a much bigger way). And they may just do another thing if we are so lucky- find their momentum by the time the first round of the HL Tourney comes to Milwaukee. But again, a 1st round home game is not even guaranteed at this point.

It's a shame this team, which many like myself believe could be right behind Butler in the league race, just can't seem to catch a break. Butler comes to town this coming Wednesday with much less fanfare than many of us anticipated just 2 short weeks ago. What would have been a near-packed house at the Cell will now probably just be a thousand or so over our average of 3,000 fans.

It's highly unlikely considering the complete absence of momentum the team seems to have, but maybe if Jeter and Co. can play their best ball of the year (or Butler plays their worst), we might just have a fighting chance to sneak a W out of this one. Butler would feel pretty humiliated; but hey, they can afford another loss. We can't.