Sans both All-Horizon League Seniors, Panthers Edge Parkside in Exhibition

We knew that no game is ever a gimme in the game of college basketball (see: Butler vs. [insert any BCS foe they have slain over the past 5 years]). But if there were just one "gimme" game on Milwaukee's schedule this season- this was supposed to be it.

How easy it is to forget that wise, age-old adage- "never count your chickens before they hatch".

Your Milwaukee Panthers were without not only their premier senior wing Tony Meier but we had to face a not-to-be-dismissed and tough D-II Parkside Ranger team also without fellow Pre-Season All-Horizon League Panther point guard and assist-extraordinaire, Kaylon Williams.

But with all the depth and talent on the roster, no Milwaukee fans seemed particularly concerned about the Parkside game. What we forgot about, was that Tony and Kaylon (and Lonnie Boga, who figures to be a huge piece of the puzzle this season and is also out with a shoulder injury) represented a lot more than just the top players on a team chock-full of talent.

They accounted for a huge chunk of the gametime experience on this team. Tony and Kaylon started every game last season. and Anthony Hill and Tone Boyle (the other two regular starters on that Championship team) have graduated.

Queue- Ja'Rob McCallum.

After the Panthers runned and gunned themselves out to an early 10-3 lead, two of the three referees seemed to take issue with the physicality being asserted by our two biggest new paint cogs- James Haarsma and Demetrius Harris (Haarsma played just 14 minutes).

Maybe the fouls were warranted, maybe not (it sure seemed inconsistent calling to me, when in the second half the refs essentially swallowed their whistles and let the guys in the paint bang around- as it should be!). But in any case, slowly but surely, the Panthers surrendered that early lead, and saw themselves down 37-34 heading into the break.

After the first half, things didn't immediately get better. Milwaukee was down by as many as 9 points (49-40) early in the second half, before the defense stepped it up and began creating turnovers galore and forcing Parkside into some awkward shots and the offense finally got back into their rhythm.

McCallum (lead all scorers with 17pts on 3-8 from 3pt land and pulled down 4rbs), Kelm (12pts, 5rbs (2-2 from 3pt)), Evan Richard (8pts), Ryan Allen (8pts- including a self-made one-handed throwdown) and Paris Gulley (8pts) hit some very key shots to put us back on top for good. We closed it out handily in the final 4 minutes winning 67-59, to capture the first win (even if it doesn't count in the W/L columns) of the '11-'12 season.

This was a collective sigh of relief for Panther fans for sure- especially after 2010 and 2011 National Championship Runners-Up Butler dropped their exhibition to a (quality but) D-II foe in Northland State last week. We can all breath a little easier as a win is a win and it had to be done largely without our biggest post guys and more challenging- without Kaylon and Tony.

But despite some of the frustrations and early disjointed-ness, there are some good takeaways from this close call:

  • Kyle Kelm (12pts, 5rbs, 2-2 from 3pt). 'Nuff said. But really, Kelm is Tony Meier's "Sorcerer's Apprentice".
  • Shaq Boga (6pts, 6rbs, 3ast- very Kaylon Williams-esque) played well in his first game as a Panther (he played very limited minutes due to a minor knee injury late in the first half)
  • J.J. Panoske hit a nice three and didn't seem to be shy under the hoop. If he learns his way around the paint, he could be big-time this season. But will he play this season? We'll find out Saturday afternoon.
  • Evan Richard (unless last night was a fluke) played in such a way that suggested it may be hard to keep him off the floor. He practiced with the team all of last season and looks ready to play- right away.
  • Even though they got a disappointing few touches, Demetrius Harris and James Haarsma (when they got back in after sitting early due to fouls) looked very comfortable down low. Harris has a bit more of a learning curve in terms of working within the offense (Haarsma has the advantage of already having two D-I seasons under his belt).
  • Paris Gulley looked great. I thought we'd have trouble getting the ball up the floor and running the offense when Shaq went down, but Paris filled in well for S. Boga and displayed that excellent shooting touch we all hoped he would have.
  • Ja'Rob McCallum - Without Ja'Rob we lose this game. Ja'Rob showed his experience and displayed desperately-needed leadership when the chips began to dwindle in the doldrums of the late 1st and early second half. McCallum was the glue that kept the team together to turn on the after-burners and eventually edge out the Rangers.

Kaylon Williams' knee injury is not expected to keep him out for many games, but don't be surprised if he does not play this coming Saturday or the following Monday @ Northern Illinois. The experience/minutes Shaq Boga gets again in Willaims' absence will be beneficial.

Bottom line is, that Tony Meier, Lonnie Boga and Kaylon Williams are injured and this team will not be at 100% or even 90% until they return. Slowly, but surely (assuming their injuries are as recoverable as has been reported), we will have the Milwaukee team we knew we should have this season.

A regular season opener against Southwest Minnesota State University is set for this Saturday at 1pm, downtown at the Cell. Let's hope to see a more fluid game from these Milwaukee Panthers.

The talent is certainly there, we just have to be a lot more consistent and when we get on top early (which I think we will yet again), we have to stay on top and not let up. This opening game (SW Minn. St is also D-II) "should" be a convincing win. But while I hope for one, I don't expect a blowout. "Don't count your chickens before they hatch", right?

You never really know what you have in a team, until things start to gel. That might have happened already.. that may take time. It's always difficult for teams early in the season to get used to rotation experiments and integrating guys who have little or no in-game experience at this level. Just ask Butler.