Panthers run past Vikings en route to 20 wins, historic season

CELEBRATE: Milwaukee now has 20 wins for the first time in 7 seasons (Credit: @ReillyHall04)

It wasn't going to be easy.

Cleveland State was the hottest team in the Horizon League going into Saturday night having won 8 of their last 10. With CSU at 18-11 (14-5) and us 19-10 (13-6) (and NKU at 19-11 (13-6)), we were playing for the 2nd place in conference and thus, the #2 seed in the Horizon League Tournament.

The Vikings started the game on an 8-0 run and settled into a small but sizable enough 5–6 point lead. 

Tristan Enuruna (24pts) and Tae Williams (21pts) posed a significant problem for the Panthers in the post and backcourt, respectively. They scored a combined 45 points and collected a combined 22 rebounds -a dozen of which were the second-chance, highly-coveted offensive type.

The Panthers found themselves on the wrong side of the whistle a few too many times which led to some easy CSU points. Our shooting was off, we didn't seem to have any really clean possessions, but we did just enough to stay close (which, although blood-pressure-boosting at times for us fans), is often all these Panthers need). The Vikings and Panthers entered the half with CSU up 36-31.

Senior Salute to VBJ, Moses and MOD- each of these guys can/will play professionally (Credit: JS)

Things really got going for Milwaukee- yet again- in the second half.

Milwaukee chipped into Cleveland State's long-standing lead and took the lead for themselves with 16:00 left in the second half on a BJ Freeman floater in transition.

Ahmad Rand (12pts-11reb double-double) and Jalen Johnson (8pts, 5reb) were huge forces in the paint. Johnson, who has struggled at times acclimating to playing in the post in the Horizon League after dominating the SWAC at Alabama A&M, had arguably his most dominant game in the paint last night.

At half, Milwaukee celebrated the  ('02-'03) team which was the first NCAA Tourney team in school history; they lost ND at the buzzer that MM

After Milwaukee built its lead to double digits, Vince Miszkiewicz got some good run. Shaky at first (probably because he gets very few minutes and needed to warm up), he eventually settled in and grabbed 6 essential boards to go along with a steal. Miszkiewicz also caught and threw down a lob to thunderous applause from the gathered Panther faithful.

After missing several layups and bunny shots in the first half, Milwaukee went to its tried and true perimeter shooting, which was effective (5-14, 34.7%) and helped us reclaim the lead less than 4 minutes into the second frame on a Freeman transition layin. The Vikings were not effective at defending Freeman and sent him to the line far more times than they stopped him.

In return, Freeman was 12-13 from the stripe.

If we get some big P5 non-con games or if the HLT returns to campuses... this'll happen again.

From there Panthers fans, it was all gas and no brakes to the finish line. The Vikings went freezing for a couple long stretches of clock and that sealed their fate. Milwaukee won, 81-72 without much trouble in front of a season-high crowd of 3,334. And this win marked the 20th win of the season; our first 20 win season since Rob Jeter's last season in 2016. Panther fans haven't been this optimistic about our postseason prospects in many years as evidenced by the big and loud crowd as well as chatter throughout Panther Arena between game action.

"How good is this team- really?" We will find out soon Panther fans, but they are pretty darn good based on what we just witnessed in this very successful regular season. They are obviously better than 9th in the Horizon 😎. Are they as good as the halftime-honored, '02-'03 Milwaukee team that reached the Big Dance for the first time in school history?

I wonder what the players from that team think after seeing this squad run the Panther show. I imagine the impressions this team made last night were very positive- for those '02-'03 Milwaukee legends, for the manic fanatics, and for all Milwaukee Panther fans coming out of the woodwork recently to join the fight.

FG        3PT       FT

37.8%   15.0%   52.0%

42.1%   35.7%   77.8%

Freeman (31pts, 8reb, 3ast), steadily racked up many points for the Panthers last night. A 3 here. A cutting, floating, magic trick drop-shot there. Before the final buzzer Freeman had 31 points- a collegiate best for him. And I'm sure this is just the first of many times he will best that mark again and reset that record. BJ did go down late in the second half with what was described as benign cramps. Panther fans, you can breathe a sigh of relief- Freeman will be in this postseason run we are currently teeing up.

Freeman, Jamison, Rand and Thomas were all highly effective at finding lanes and slashing to the hoop; multiple post defenders be damned. Between the rollicking crowd and the beautiful basketball by the Panthers last night, I don't think you could have wished for a better game for our final appearance downtown at our Panther Den this season.

Freeman is guarded while he contemplates dishing or slashing to the goal (Credit: @ReillyHall04)

And so now the postseason begins. The Horizon League Tourney (HLT) starts with Round 1 at campus arenas on Tuesday night.

Round 2, also at campus sites, will have Milwaukee quite literally at their on-campus practice facility as opposed to Panther Arena. For reasons that go beyond mere mortal "fan" ken, the team has decided to play the 1 on-campus game (opponent TBD) at Klotsche Center off Downer Ave. on the East Side of Milwaukee. a.k.a - U of Milwaukee's beautiful-but-landlocked campus next to the Lake.

The KC holds 3,500 max, and with the 3,334 in attendance downtown last night, a sellout is almost a sure bet. It'd be interesting to see how many more than 3,334 we could have gotten to the Arena on Thursday, but we can wait until next season to build attendance numbers back up downtown. It takes time.

According to those in the know, the university is committed to Panther Arena long-term, and the team is expected to play at least 12, preferably 14 home games at Panther Arena next season with the K only being used for small, non-con games against DIII opponents.

Well that that takes care of that minor bruhaha.

We are not returning to the Klotsche full-time everyone; this is only for noise level in our 2nd Rd. HLT game

And so, to the K we will go and back this team on Thursday night. They've gotten this far and show no signs of slowing down. A healthy Markeith Browning would be a huge boost- especially on the defensive end- but there is not yet any timetable on his ankle fully recovering for game readiness.

These Milwaukee Panthers are one of the best in our program's history- be proud of them for what they've already done as well as what they can still do... 🤫

They have their own signature fast-paced style and are a joy to watch at the Arena or K, or from the comfort of your home. Watch them go far, because they won't stop at just winning the HLT 🏆🌆🏀. Tune in if you can't make it, but if you can, by all means possible- pack the K and get louder than you've ever been at any sporting event.

go panthers  
stack good days.