Panthers hustled by, lose to Eastern Kentucky 77-71

Eastern Kentucky pressed out to a 26 point lead before Milwaukee's second half comeback effort

Saturday night was the night. The very first of many in which Milwaukeeans have a chance to revel in some live Panther basketball magic at the historic downtown Arena .

The nearly freezing rain did not deter fans from packing into Panther Arena. The buzz inside was indeed palpable. Arriving late, I was surprised to see the lobby filled to capacity with slow lines of people still being checked (no items can be carried in other than small purses and small bags). This looked like a playoff game or a game against Wisconsin or Green Bay (both of which typically bring a few extra 1000 attendees).

And the Arena itself was teeming with basketball fans. Many Panther fans, some probably just curious to see Patrick Baldwin Jr's hometown debut. In fact the 4,318 paid attendance was highest since January of 2016.

But if there was loud excitement in the building last night, I arrived after Eastern Kentucky had effectively deafened what should and could have been a Great Equalizer. Crowd noise aside, Milwaukee did so many things to lose this game in the first half, a much better second half (final ~15 minutes) effort had no chance of repairing the damage done.

In what figured to be a blazingly fast-paced affair, something Baldwin and staff would have prepared the team for (intense, 2-2-1, trap, man-to-man pressure), it was only Milwaukee who seemed unable to keep up and unable to match or break through the EKU defense and defensive switching.

Baldwin Jr, Gholston and Thomas are a formidable force, but more is needed; it takes all 5 at a time

Our own coverage was not working for most of the game against this markedly smaller opponent. But when Milwaukee did spark the comeback around 6 minutes into the 2nd half, our completely transformed defense was formidable, forcing several late turnovers, jump balls and a shot clock violation before time ran out. Newby had 4 steals- but did you notice?

This game was lost by poor 3pt shooting (5-23 (21.7%)) and turnovers (17- 13 in the 1st half). The second half did bring the crowd to life a bit and inspired hope in Panther fans that the way we played in that second frame is the way we can play every game all 40 minutes.

In the end our second effort was not enough and we lost to EKU, 77-71.

I will say this: when any one of our trifecta of high scorers tries to score, they will not be denied. But when you shoot better than your opponent, have 3 scorers with around 20 or over 20pts, and you lose, there is something else missing.

It takes all five, in every combination of our 5 guys out there.

And it takes support from everyone on the Panther bench and as many people as possible in the stands. Our home games should be feared by opponents.

Baldwin Jr. (19pts, 10reb for second straight double-double), Gholston (22pts) and Thomas (23pts) led the Panther attack, but that was it. The next highest scoring Panther was Jasin Sinani with one 3 point field goal.

Milwaukee was outrebounded 44-39 and turned the ball over 17 times to Eastern Kentucky's 12. And though nobody thought Baldwin Jr would be the solution to our post problem, he's collected over 20 boards in 2 games. We need more help- especially in the post.

Many fans exited the Arena with a sense of deflation, but the seasoned veteran Panther fans among us took stock in the good things that happened in the second half. A couple different bounces in the final minutes and this would have been a thrilling comeback W. It isn't much comfort knowing our next game is in Gainesville against the SEC's Florida Gators.

But if the goal is to be the best you have to compete against the best. The only thing that matters is preparing for the Florida Gators next Thursday. I can assure you these Panthers will light up the Arena many times this winter but that will have to wait until Alcorn State on the 28th.

On Thursday of this week, we'll face a Florida Gator program who just easily dispatched #20 Florida State this afternoon.

This is an historical rematch and vengeance opportunity for what Joakim Noah and the Bill Donovan-led Gators did to Milwaukee in March of 2006. If more leaders begin to emerge from this group of Panthers, revenge, and a renewed sense of optimism, may well be in the cards.

It takes all 5 out there.

go panthers
back to the future.