After a Strong First Half for Milwaukee, Sparty Wakes Up and Ends Panther Upset Bid

Unfortunately (it had to happen- and there is no better learning experience than to have it happen early)- your Milwaukee Panthers are no longer undefeated. But we lost to a B1G foe, on the road at their place, who isn't exactly one to be ashamed of losing to.

Add Tony Meier subtract Draymond Green from this game.. and we'd have won

This game went a lot like I and many who follow the program (and the folks in Vegas apparently- the line was -13.5 MSU) figured it would. Milwaukee, still lacking key scorer and senior floor leader Tony Meier, would fight the good fight, and then eventually get worn down by the much bigger Spartans on their home-floor in front of 14,000 wild and crazy MSU fans- the Izzone was largely empty due to Thanksgiving break, but East Lansing still draws well over 14,000 fans for every game- even games against "Mid-Majors" like the Milwaukee Panthers.

But the outcome was a bit more positive than that. The Panthers came out battling tough and never trailed by more than a couple of possessions throughout the entire first half.

But in the end, the no-holds-barred physicality of Draymond Green (18pts, 8rbs, 2ast, 3stl, 2blk), Derrik Nix (who added 11) and some incredibly whistle-friendly-against-visiting-team B1G referees were too much for us too overcome.

Haarsma, despite his sleight height disadvantage is proving he can bang with the best

Despite Draymond and despite those inconsistent referees (you have to be used to that- it happens in 90% of road games) we still could have won this game- were it not for our recurring shooting woes, which returned at the worst time, to engulf our otherwise solid defensive game in a big black cloud.

We played MSU virtually even throughout the first 20 minutes, but things went south (not too badly though) in the second half when the Spartans began to realize what was on the line for them- they couldn't lose to the lowly Milwaukee Panthers, right?

Michigan State slowly but surely asserted their home-court dominance over the final 20 minutes and cut down your Milwaukee Panthers to capture the victory 68-55. So there you have it, our first loss of the season. But many of us expected a road game against MSU to be a loss. So it's not as devastating as say a home loss to Loyola (which happened- last year, in fact).

Some guys who haven’t shown up in the box score much this year got some very valuable experience in this one. Shaq Boga had 8pts, 4rbs and 2ast to go with a pair of TO’s. Noticeably absent were Evan Richard, Kyle Kelm and Ja’Rob McCallum. They added some points and a few rebounds, but it wasn’t a typical game from any of them (Ja’Rob was 0-5 from 3pt, which happens rarely).

As a team we shot just 39%, an abysmal 20% from beyond the arc, and only got to the line 13 times… Of those measly 13 chances we were given we made just 6 for 42% free throw percentage. Sparty got to the line a whopping 36 times and made 61% of their free shots.

K-Dub had an average night (a stellar night for some PGs), but he needed more help

We really have to focus on shot selection (don’t force things) and nailing down those free throws- it’s the easiest shot in the game of basketball- all it takes for a 67% or so average is practice. Muscle memory will take care of everything else.

Haarsma (13pts, 8rbs) and Williams (14pts, 4rbs, 3ast) displayed the leadership we need right now, and those two almost made this upset happen... But the rest of the team seemed a little rattled by the big show environment and two guys cannot do it alone- everyone from the starting five to the end of the bench- must believe.

"Maybe we can keep it close". "Let's just fight and see where the chips fall". "I'll be happy with a strong effort that gets us experience". I could go on for hours with cliche excuses that cause countless games to be virtually forfeited before the ball is even tipped. It's about mindset.

Since '06-'07, we've been building something tough here in Milwaukee; building something that isn't going to lay down for anyone regardless of their conference or past-success or where they stand in the almighty AP or RPI Top 25. Assistant Coach Chad Boudreau said it best after the game:

"We don't get into moral victories or anything like that here. We expected to win, as we do every game.”

He’s right, and that's what most of us like to hear.

There is some very bright news that should perk up every Panther fans ear- rumor has it that Meier has been recovering well from his calf injury and should be back in action by the Dec. 1st early conference-opening home game vs. Loyola.

While we may have missed a huge opportunity to upset a legend of the B1G (even if they seem to be in an off-year), the experience was invaluable and should flow into our next, very-winnable games starting with another road contest at Arkansas-Little Rock. After that we begin the early portion of the Horizon League season with two home games vs. Loyola (12/01 at 7pm) and UIC (12/3 at 1pm).

I think Coach Jeter was a little surprised by the lop-side foul calling. Both teams played physical

But first thing's first, while winning the league again (Regular Season Sole Possession and H-League Tourney this season) is our primary goal, the more decent non-con wins we can rack up the better our chances are of helping establish the Horizon League as a perennial multi-bid conference- there is no reason it shouldn’t be (I don't think 2 H-League bids per year on average is far-fetched).

The Horizon League’s success in the NCAA Tourney over the past 11 seasons is pretty astonishing- and unlike me, numbers are not opinionated (see the above link if you doubt the damage the Horizon has consistently done in the month of March).

If we manage to do the unthinkable and upset Wisconsin or Marquette (which I still think we will- esp. once we have Meier back... and considering both are essentially home games) and string together a 1st or 2nd place finish in the H-League (with a record of 20+ regular season wins) but somehow lose the H-League Tourney Championship game again (perish the thought!), a loss to AR-Little Rock could be a big deciding factor in the NCAA Committee's decision to let us into or exclude us from the 2012 Big Dance as a high-seeded at-large.

We cannot, should not, and will not lose this game Saturday night. No “losing streaks” this season. Let's have whatever losses we have to concede occur few and far in between.

Heads should be held high because the team that we saw almost take Michigan State to a frantic finish, is a team that once fully healed, is going to take the Horizon League and the nation by storm. Let’s get back into the winner’s lane Saturday night.