Two Steps Forward, One Step Back..

After back-to-back encouraging League wins, your Milwaukee Panthers dropped a tough one Saturday night 69-64 to the Phoenix of Green Bay in front of 4,500 at the Resch Center. But believe it or not, we had more than a few positives come out of this one.

Shooting woes continue to be the motif of this season-long drama. Had we just knocked down a few more shots (heck two of our 17 missed three's!), we would have came back to Milwaukee with another W firmly in hand.

But it wasn't to be.. Milwaukee shot an impressive 15-20 (75%) from the free throw line (another encouraging development), but only 20-57 (35%) overall from the field. That would be the difference in this one.

Rahmon Fletcher led the Phoenix with 17 and impressive newcomer Bryquis Perine chipped in 13 as Green Bay showed Milwaukee that they aren't the pushover some might expect from a team with a new coach and former Marquette player (who played under RJ while Jeter was an assistant for the Golden Eagles) Brian Wardle took the reigns from departing coach pmck after last season.

Wardle showed Jeter and staff last night that he is already very much used to this Horizon League coaching thing... Although our recurring abysmal shooting reared quite ugly once again and certainly gave the new coach a lot of lee-way to work with.

As we have begun to (uncomfortably) get accustomed to and as Tom Enlund noted in the first sentence of his take on this game (and nearly every single one of our losses this season)- we shoot poorly (ie. less tan 40%)- we lose. It's almost written in stone this season.

Kyle Kelm (6pts, 2-3 from 3pt) did nail two key 3's early on after we begun the game just 1-10 from the field, which really jump-started the Panthers and actually handed us a brief 1 point lead before the Phoenix reasserted their home turf protection efforts.

We also managed to put four players in double digits- Kaylon (14pts, 5rbs, 5pts) led the charge as he continues to show Milwaukee fans that there was nothing false about the optimism we all shared when he came to campus as our first "true" (ie. pass-first)  PG since Chris Hill. KW even got some national pub for his triple double in our Butler-smackdown in a recent ESPN article about the state of the Mid-Major scene the other day.

Tone Boyle followed with 13pts and 5rbs, and Ant put in another dominANT performance posting yet another double double (12pts, 12rbs). Tony Meier rounded out the double digit scorers with 10 points and making 2 of his 4 3pt attempts... And though we average 14 turnovers per contest- we only had 9 TO's in this one. So HOW did we lose?

Again- our shooting just couldn't cut it. This game showed that even if we do nearly everything else right, if the shots don't fall.. we leave the court empty-handed. We did also lose the battle of the boards (39-32) and Green Bay capitalized on their passing more than we did (GB led us 14-11 in the assists column).

It's sad that we can be encouraged by close losses at this point in the season, but I for one was encouraged by a lot of things we did and didn't do (ie. "give up") in this loss. If this game was played earlier in the season we may have lost by 15. Instead- we were a few missed UWGB free throws from tying it up in the final 3 minutes.

I saw fight in this team, and if we can just learn how to not shoot 60% one half and 25% the next two... there is definitely reason to be optimistic about the possibility of this team going on a big run before it's too late. Let's just start hitting shots at a respectable 47% clip - we will destroy teams if we just shoot consistently "decent"!

Again (it bears repeating to those who sharpen their pitchforks with every loss)-  on February 11th, 2010 your Milwaukee Panthers were 13-12. That team wound up posting a 20-14 record and nearly beat '09-'10 Butler (inarguably the best Mid-Major in the 21st Century) in the Horizon League Semi-Finals.

We have two crucial home games coming up (UIC on Thursday night at 7pm and Loyola on Saturday at 1pm). Those two game are imperative for us get back to that optimistic feeling we had after this team crushed Butler on our home court just over a week ago (and subsequently Butler (and Valpo) crushed the same CSU team that embarrassed us earlier in the season...

This is not like last season when we saw a season-long nationally ranked Butler gobble up the Horizon like a well-deserved King's feast, and everyone else scramble for the after-dinner table scraps. The top Horizon teams all have at least one loss (and we have only 3 so far). We follow up this upcoming homestand with a tough road trip- but then we play 3 more in a row at the Cell. The opportunities are there.

But I'll stop speculating beyond the only game that matters until it's been played- UIC. Let's tackle the flames early and not let up. It was UIC after all that is solely responsible for this Milwaukee program having only 3 (and not 4) NCAA Tourney appearances since 2003 (UWM dropped the Horizon League Championship 65-62 to UIC in March of 2004- stunning the then "rabid and rapidly-multiplying" Panther faithful at the Cell in Milwaukee).

Still wanna throw in tha towel? Let's galvanize our Panther support and show this team that if they don't give up (which they didn't Saturday night) we won't give up, either. We will go down fighting.... or fight our way back to the top.